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Hyde Park, Woodlawn, South Shore

Hyde Park Chamber Marks Centennial By Inviting Neighbors To Share Stories About Century Of Local Businesses

Neighborhood historians interviewed longtime business owners, and Hyde Parkers can sign up to share their own reflections Thursday.

Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce members are among the crowd celebrating the opening of the Soul Shack and It's Not Meat on 53rd Street in March 2019.
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HYDE PARK — Reporter Bryant Gumbel worked at Mr. G’s Finer Foods in Kimbark Plaza. Chicago’s first Black mayor, Harold Washington; improv pioneers the Compass Players; and Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg dined at the Far East Kitchen on 55th and Woodlawn.

Stories like these are the focus of an oral history program this week to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce.

The virtual storytelling session, co-hosted by the Hyde Park Historical Society, begins 7 p.m. Thursday. Attendees can register for free through Eventbrite, and people with a story to share can indicate their interest on the registration page. Those who sign up in advance to tell a story will get priority in the program, said Kathy Huff, a historical society board member and committee co-chair.

Chicago’s movers and shakers have long supported Hyde Park’s small business scene — before and after they hit the national and world stages, neighborhood historians said.

“There’s a lot of longtime businesses in Hyde Park — and former longtime businesses,” said Lala Rodgers, co-chair of the Hyde Park Historical Society’s oral history committee. “We just wanted to give those owners an opportunity to share their stories and then for participants to hear those stories.”

Credit: Hyde Park Historical Society
A 1961 photo of the intersection of 55th Street and Lake Park Avenue, which was drastically changed in a few short years during the neighborhood’s controversial urban renewal project.

The storytelling program is a belated celebration of the Hyde Park Chamber’s 100th birthday, as some sources trace the organization back to the founding of the Hyde Park Businessman’s Association in 1920. The pandemic prevented the chamber from celebrating last year, Huff said.

The chamber represents the neighborhood’s businesses, nonprofits and other community organizations. Individuals also can register to become members.

“The Hyde Park Historical Society has been a member for many years … churches and synagogues are members,” Huff said. “It embraces more than just the for-profit business community.”

Thursday’s celebration is the latest in the historical society’s Hyde Park-Kenwood Stories oral history series, where residents are invited to share their neighborhood memories about once a year. Rodgers came up with the idea for the series, which began in 2009.

Past topics have included art fairs, faith communities, parks, spotlights on community organizations and the impacts of urban renewal.

In addition to the series, the oral history committee maintains a list of more than 40 candidates for long-term interviews as they work to preserve neighborhood stories, Huff said.

Oral histories are filmed and transcribed before being archived at the University of Chicago’s Joseph Regenstein Library, Huff said.

To volunteer with the oral history committee, email with the subject line “Oral History Project.”

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