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Hyde Park, Woodlawn, South Shore

Silver Room Block Party Canceled Again — And Its Future In Hyde Park Is Uncertain

"Everything has just grown — which means more expenses — but we haven’t been able to charge," Silver Room owner Eric Williams said. "It’s just not sustainable, having this event for 40,000 people that's free."

Eric Williams, owner of The Silver Room.
Alisa Hauser/Block Club Chicago
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HYDE PARK — The Silver Room Block Party, a summer institution that has drawn families and partygoers to Wicker Park and Hyde Park for nearly two decades, is canceled for a second year due to the coronavirus pandemic and funding concerns.

Silver Room owner Eric Williams said he has his eye on rebooting the block party for 2022, but there’s no guarantee the next in-person bash will be in Hyde Park.

“People just don’t donate” to the annual party, which cannot charge an entry fee as it’s held on public property along 53rd Street, Williams said. That middle-of-the-street location also limits the possibility of expanding for the event, which attracted about 40,000 attendees to its last iteration in 2019.

“Everything has just grown — which means more expenses — but we haven’t been able to charge,” Williams said. “It’s just not sustainable, having this event for 40,000 people that’s free.”

Silver Room Block Party joins events like the Logan Square Arts Festival and Midsommarfest in calling off their plans for another year, as coronavirus infections rise again even as more people are getting vaccinated.

More broadly, several neighborhood and citywide festivals — including the 57th Street Art Fair in Hyde Park — are in a holding pattern to see if they’ll be able to occur this year.

Silver Room organizers have about a year to figure out where it would make the most sense to hold the next block party, and no final decisions have been made.

They’ll also consider how to stay true to the founding mission of a celebration that started with just a couple hundred friends and family members in Wicker Park, Williams said.

“As more people come, they just know it’s a party — they don’t know the other things that are a part of it. That’s just a nature of its growth, but I’d love to get back to the family-oriented stuff,” he said. “Of course, people come at night to party, but the daytime stuff is just as fun, if not more fun. People bring their families and their toddlers.”

Williams would love to keep the party on the South Side — but given what it’s grown into, “I just honestly don’t know where” in Hyde Park would be feasible, he said.

“It’s too many people for the space that we’re in right now, and we can’t really expand the footprint,” Williams said. “We can’t go further east past Hyde Park Boulevard, and we can’t go that much further west because it starts to encroach further into the community. We keep packing more people into the space, so that, for me, it’s not enjoyable.”

The cancellation was announced on the Silver Room’s “Randomly Selected” podcast. Though “Randomly Selected” and an expanded online presence offer new ways to connect with the shop, Williams’ main focus has been ensuring the physical store remains successful.

“Shopping is always No. 1,” Williams said. “That’s always been the mission for the store for 23 years, and we’re still doing it. We’re very proud that we’re still in a really great position after all these years — a lot of businesses didn’t make it through the pandemic.”

The store recently closed for nearly four months, but it has “been doing well” since reopening, sporting a remodeled storefront and offering free same-day delivery, he said.

Another reason Williams opted against pulling together a 2021 block party: He’s busy preparing to open the Bronzeville Winery at 4420 S. Cottage Grove Ave. in July.

The sit-down restaurant and wine bar will operate at the 4400 Grove development, an 84-unit affordable housing complex that opened in October. The project received a $250,000 Neighborhood Opportunity Fund grant in the summer.

“We’ve had an impact in Hyde Park, and I want to do the same and be a catalyst for development in Bronzeville,” Williams said. “I’d kind of call it the sister restaurant to the Silver Room. If you like the vibe of the Silver Room, if you like the vibe of the block party, that’s gonna be the vibe of this wine bar.”

The Quad Communities Development Corporation focused on attracting minority-owned and “mom-and-pop” tenants like the Bronzeville Winery to 4400 Grove’s retail and commercial space. Each of the storefronts will be operated by people of color, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in the fall.

Block Club Chicago’s coronavirus coverage is free for all readers. Block Club is an independent, 501(c)(3), journalist-run newsroom.

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