There has been a significant amount of research which points to the western portion of Chicago Avenue as a future center of commercial development in the Austin neighborhood, because it seems to be the most stabilized.
That is largely thanks to Malcolm Crawford, who was working on revitalizing Chicago Avenue. Crawford, executive director of the Austin African American Business Networking Association, worked with the Planning and Development Department in 2013 to create a commercial thrive zone initiative called the “Soul City Corridor” stretching along Chicago Avenue, from Cicero Avenue west to Austin Boulevard.
The zone is intended to serve as a cultural benchmark similar to Chinatown or Greektown, where residents and visitors may experience the music and food that is unique to Austin’s African-American population, via small business development. AAABNA’s research that led to the foundation of the Soul City Corridor revealed that 85% of the total disposable income of Austin households was spent in the neighboring suburb of Oak Park, which has the retail infrastructure Austin lacks. “That’s millions of dollars a year leaving our neighborhood. It’s a challenge because Oak Park is right next door,” Crawford said.
That is starting to turn around: Crawford said a handful of small businesses are moving into Austin, including insurance firms and restaurants. Ruby’s, the popular soul food restaurant in neighboring Garfield Park, is opening a storefront in the Soul City Corridor. Crawford said the most exciting development along the corridor is the opening of a campaign office for gubernatorial candidate and hotelier J.B. Pritzker.
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