$200,000 grant to help Portage Park Chamber fill vacant storefronts
by BRIAN NADIG
The Portage Park Chamber of Commerce is planning to use a new $200,000 city grant to entice new businesses to move into vacant storefronts in the Six Corners commercial district on Chicago’s Northwest Side.
The grant is expected to pay for a year’s rent and utilities for up to five storefronts, plus marketing and technical assistance will be provided to the business owners. The chamber also is expected to guide the businesses through the permitting and licensing process.
The grant is part of the citywide Small Storefront Activation Program.
“The Small Business Storefront Activation Program transforms storefronts and communities by stimulating entrepreneurship, creating jobs, and attracting new consumers,” said BACP Commissioner Kenneth J. Meyer. “The selected grantees will assist local business owners and entrepreneurs to positively impact commercials corridors.”
The lease assistance is intended for businesses that will help fill a community need. Political organizations, liquor stores, marijuana dispensaries and pawn shops are not eligible, according to city guidelines.
“It’s certainly a needle mover in terms of economic development,” Portage Park chamber executive director Michael Giordano said of the program. He will be managing the grant for the chamber.
Applicants must be start-up businesses or ones which are expanding by opening another location, Giordano said. He added that businesses looking to relocate are not eligible because the city does not want the program to “cannibalize” existing stores from one neighborhood to another.
Eligible businesses also “must have fewer than 500 employees, be based in Chicago, and be incorporated or active in a Qualified Census Tract or have proof of pandemic-related losses or increased costs proportional to the program benefit,” program guidelines state.
QCT refers to a geographical area where usually at least half of households earn below the area median income, or below a designated percentage of the AMI.
Details have not been finalized, but the chamber expects the program to cover rents of around “$1,700 to $1,800” a month, Giordano said. “We are going to pair the businesses with an appropriate storefront,” he said.
It is possible that one of the storefronts could follow the “incubator model” in which several businesses would be housed together, possibly with separate cubicles or offices, Giordano said.
One of the targeted storefronts for the program is located at 4948 W. Irving Park Road, whose previous occupants have included a cell phone store and a plumbing company, according to the chamber.
Supplies and equipment may be eligible for reimbursement through the program, and “cosmetic improvements” to a storefront also may be covered, Giordano said. Permanent enhancements that would benefit the property owner are not eligible under the program’s rules, he said.
The chamber is looking to have the first businesses move in by late winter or early spring. The program ends no later than May 31, 2025.
The ultimate of the goal of the program is to help new businesses get through their first year and then hopefully transition into a longterm lease with the property owner, Giordano said. The initial lease for the first year will be under the chamber’s name.
The city Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection, which oversees the program, encourages those agencies receiving the grant to sponsor “placemaking efforts,” such as community art events, that draw potential customers to their business district.
This program started in 2022, and other participants have included the North River Commission and the Northwest Side Community Development Corporation.
2023-24 marks the first time the Portage Park chamber was a grant recipient for the storefront activation program. It is the only NW Side organization to receive the grant for this year.
The chamber is the service provider for the Six Corners Special Service Area, which funds beautification, maintenance and other improvement programs for the commercial
area centered around the intersection of Milwaukee Avenue, Irving Park Road and Cicero Avenue.