PILSEN — Pilsen’s alderman wants the annual Mole de Mayo festival moved from 18th Street, saying he’s heard enough from residents and business owners fed up with the street closures, parking headaches, rowdiness and noise it brings.
Since 2009, the Economic Strategies Development Corporation, a nonprofit that serves Pilsen businesses, has staged Mole de Mayo, and it is their biggest fundraiser of the year. With its signature mole cook-off, live music and lucha libre wrestling, this year’s fest is slated to take over a stretch of 18th Street from Blue Island to Ashland on Memorial Day weekend.
In the early years, the fest was staged at West 16th and South Peoria streets. But in 2015, it moved to 18th Street in an effort to bring more people into the businesses along the corridor, said Alex Esparza, executive director of the Economic Strategies Development Corporation.
In response to concerns, Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) said he’s tried to organize meetings between neighbors and organizers to find a compromise. His office has suggested Mole de Mayo organizers move the fest back to 16th and Peoria streets.
“We are recommending that we relocate the festival in a location where potentially there’s less impact to the small businesses and residents,” Sigcho-Lopez said.
But Esparza said he has no plan to move the festival because he hears more people are in favor of the fest on 18th Street than against it because of the increased traffic it brings to businesses.
“After COVID, you need as much buy-in power [as possible],” Esparza said.
Victoria Romero, a longtime Pilsen resident who lives near 18th and Bishop, said neighbors have had problems with the fest ever since it moved. The headache begins when crews loudly set up tents and booths before the fest and continues throughout the weekend as attendees publicly urinate, vomit and camp out around people’s homes, she said.
Romero said she’d like to be able to enjoy the holiday weekend, but instead she feels “trapped” in her home, where she keeps watch to make sure its not tagged or peed on.
“People are obliterated drunk,” Romero said.
Another neighbor said there isn’t mutual respect between the people who attend the festival and the residents, and she’s seen similar problems as Romero.
This neighbor said she asked organizers not to set up portable toilets on her block, but knows others who will have to deal with it in front of their homes.
“No one wants that,” she said.
Parking also becomes an issue once the streets get closed and crowds flock to the neighborhood, residents said. One year, the alley behind Romero’s home was blocked off on both ends, she said.
Rigoberto Gonzales, who owns Mr. G’s Sewing Machine Shop, said closing 18th Street and reducing parking made it nearly impossible for him to keep his store open during the festival weekend. The shop was located on 18th Street along the stretch where the fest is held but has since moved to 1810 S. Allport St.
Gonzales said his customers used to have to park blocks away and walk through throngs of people while carrying heavy sewing machines. He had to close his store for the long weekend.
“It hurt me a lot,” Gonzales said.
Esparza said he hears the opposite from small businesses owners who want the festival on 18th Street. Many of them say it’s one of the best retail weekends, he said.
“It’s three days that these businesses could really use,” the leader said.
Esparza said one of the reasons organizers moved the event to 18th Street was so it could be in the heart of the neighborhood and would encourage people to invest money in the community. It would have the opposite effect if it was held on side streets, he said.
In response to neighbors’ feedback, organizers modified the fest’s layout and increased security each year, Esparza said.
To alleviate concerns about businesses being blocked by tents, this year’s festival will have tents in the middle of the street instead of on the sidewalks, Esparza said.
“We’re doing this because we heard the complaints. … We heard them loud and clear,” Esparza said.
Gonzales said he’s skeptical this arrangement will help. If it’s not tents blocking the storefronts, it’ll be people sitting and gathering with their food and drinks along the sidewalks, preventing customers from getting through, he said.
Rodolfo Alvarez, owner of Alvarez Hardware at 1323 W. 18th St., said while the fest doesn’t happen in front of his store, he still supports moving the event to help others on the strip affected by the street closures, lack of parking and large crowds.
Alvarez said festival organizers are showing a “lack of respect” by not heeding the concerns of local businesses owners.
Sigcho-Lopez said input from residents and small business owners should have been part of the conversation from the beginning.
Moving forward, “we want to create guidelines that are in the best interest of the community as a whole,” he said.
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