EAST SIDE — The past few years have been a whirlwind for Christa and Mike Alvarez.
The wife and husband co-host “South by SouthEast,” an audio and video podcast that covers small businesses, notable figures, events and stories from the Southeast Side, where they’re from, and in neighboring northwest Indiana.
With “South by SouthEast” celebrating its third anniversary this month, the couple thinks it’s more important than ever to do what they said others in the city won’t: spotlight the Southeast Side and all it has to offer.
“We’re highlighting small, local, independent businesses, or anybody in the community that’s doing something positive,” Mike Alvarez said. “We’re also informing our neighbors that these things are right in their backyard, or in northwest Indiana, which is just a five-minute drive away. It’s OK to get out of your comfort zone and try new, independent spots.”
The two are holding “South by SouthEast” events through the end of the month to continue their mission. So far, they’ve been featured at a Saturday pop-up event at Toci, La Diosa, a retail store for small Southeast Side businesses to sell body care products and other wares.
Shop owner Ines Ornelas, who also holds community events in her space at 3656 E. 106th St., offered room to “South by SouthEast” so they could celebrate their third anniversary March 12.
“We have so many talented people in the neighborhood, and they just need to be showcased,” Ornelas said.
The couple met at a local music festival that featured a battle-of-the-the-bands event where Mike Alvarez did sound work and Christa Alvarez did stage work. The two kept in touch and married eight years later.
They started “South by SouthEast” after failing to find much information that promoted neighborhood businesses. They’d only come across podcasts that focused on more visible parts of the city, like the North Side and Downtown.
With Christa Alvarez’s journalism degree from Roosevelt University and Mike Alvarez’s experience with audio engineering and 12 years in the music industry, the two felt they could be the resource they were seeking in others.
“We wanted to let people know that the community businesses that were already here are still thriving,” Christa Alvarez said. “We want to continue to keep those businesses open and if it’s a mom and pop shop, we don’t want to see them close.”
Their episodes have featured small businesses like Buzzin BBQ in Whiting, Indiana; and community fixtures like well-known barber Ace Fadez and local musicians B Raza and Jacob Taus, among others.
They also have a segment where they partner with their friend Sarah Garcia-Mares, a former Southeast Sider, to discuss mental health, and they talk with locally based nurses, therapists and others.
Garcia-Mares said she had wanted to do a podcast centered on mental health issues in the community. She pitched the idea to the Alvarezes, who created the recurring segment for “South By SouthEast.”
Now, with three years and dozens of podcast episodes behind them, “South by SouthEast” has become a neighborhood fixture itself.
Jessica Andrade, owner of Southeast Side tarot business Chingona Tarot, said the area is overlooked because of its proximity to Indiana and distance from more popular parts of Chicago.
To Andrade, the Southeast Side is a community full of strong, creative people who are ready to show what their community has to offer. With many families like hers still grappling with the divestment of their community after the steel mills closed decades ago, efforts like “South by SouthEast” provide a good start at turning things around, Andrade said.
“I think we’re very authentic people, unlike a lot of other places in the city that have hype to them,” Andrade said. “We don’t have hype. When we hype ourselves up, it’s because we know we’re worth believing in. We’re probably the realest people you can come by in the city because we have to be real.”
The pandemic set the Alvarezes back a bit, but they said they’re ready to keep building their podcast, doing community events and exploring other partnerships.
In the past, the podcast has worked with nearby school St. Francis de Sales High School for a youth event, and the hosts held a suicide and mental health awareness walk with Garcia-Mares.
The duo wants to do community bike rides, walks and meetups, Mike Alvarez said.
They’d also like to focus more on music, covering local musicians, festivals and livestream live sets, something they’ve wanted to do since the podcast began. For now, the couple said they’ll continue putting out podcast episodes and selling “South By SouthEast” merchandise via Instagram so they can funnel profits back into the community.
“That’s how we pay for the chalk for the youth events,” Mike Alvarez said. “That’s how we pay for the free food. So we just want to give back to the community. We want people to be proud of where they’re from and we want to give back to the community. That’s all we wanted. Whatever we can do to shine a positive light on this area, we’re going to do it.”
Listen to “It’s All Good: A Block Club Chicago Podcast”: