Category Archives: Business News

Optimism in Local Business Recovery

It has been a tough year for businesses around the world.  Chicago has not escaped the wrath of the coronavirus pandemic but thankfully seems to be coming back to its former glory, at least in some industries and regions.

As we know, some government aid has been received for this. More should be coming though. For example, the recent bill that was just passed by the House for $1.9 trillion for pandemic recovery entitling around 85% of adults to $1,400. Further, $28.6 billion is being earmarked for grants to be given to restaurants that encountered a decline in revenues due to the pandemic. These grants should be the same as the revenue each restaurant lost, capping at $10 million per company and $5 million per location.

It is hoped that businesses that were forced to shutter during the pandemic will have enough money to re-open and re-hire their staff. And it seems this is already happening right here, at the local 92nd and South Stony Island at Nipsey’s Restaurant.  They are looking for new staff as the restaurant has received permission to open for indoor dining once more. The owner, Teddy Gilmore said:

“I’m offering $150 to employees to get vaccinated. Once they get vaccinated, we’ll give them another $150, so it opens the doors of the place safely and allows us to hire plenty of people in the community.”

In related news, Primark has just opened on State Street in the Loop – in the place where Old Navy and Gap used to be.  This Irish firm already has a presence in the East Coast but Chicago has been on its wishlist for a while as US firm president Andy Stewart pointed out “There’s more than 50 million tourists that come here every year.” He believes that things are really looking up and that by “this time next yea we will be on the cusp of a retail revitalization.”

Local Business Transactions

Despite the pandemic, large corporate transactions are thankfully still taking place.  In this article we take a look at two that involve local companies: ATG Trust and OppFi.

First, Effingham based Midland States Bancorp is to enter into a transaction in which it will purchase Chicago’s ATG Trust — a company established in 1998 initially as an Attorneys’ Title Guaranty Fund, Inc. subsidiary by Dennis Norden in Kankakee – offers its clients a variety of estate and trust-related services and today has $387 million in assets under management and an approximate yearly revenue of $3.5 million.

CEO and President of Midland States Bancorp, Jeffrey Ludwig explained:

“Over the past several years, we have effectively utilized acquisitions to grow our assets under administration, better leverage our wealth management platform, and add expertise in specialized areas. [AMG Trust] “will further increase the scale and diversification of our wealth management business, while adding new capabilities that will enhance our ability to attract new clients.”

Meanwhile, a “business combination agreement” has been developed between Opportunity Financial LLC (Oppfi) and FG New America Acquisition Corporation (FGNA) this will lead to the former becoming a public company and will likely trade under the NYSE as OPFI when the contract is complete, which is planned to be at the end of Q2 2021.  Joe Moglia, Chairman of FGNA said:

“My team at FG New America and I are thrilled to announce this transaction with OppFi, as serving the financial needs of the everyday consumer is very much in our DNA. We have been highly impressed by the significant growth the OppFi team has achieved through their innovative platform and the proven ability to scale, all while faithfully serving their customers.”

This was echoed by Jared Kaplan, OppFi’s CEO who said

“OppFi is at the forefront of a high growth digital financial services revolution. We are a leading financial technology platform that powers banks through a multitude of products and our unwavering commitment to customer service. We’re tremendously proud of the team that has made our progress possible through a commitment to serving consumers excluded from the traditional system through fair, transparent products and an extraordinary customer experience. We see a solid opportunity ahead for OppFi to be the financial champion for the nearly 60 million everyday consumers in the U.S. as we continue to innovate our array of products, technology and capabilities in the years ahead. We are excited to be joining with the FGNA team to help make this a reality.”

Fries Anyone?

Many businesses have made a huge loss this year and even more have had to close.  One of the hardest hit has been the restaurant industry and seeing more and more closures has been very hard.

But one eatery has actually done even better and is now looking to expand.  Craig Batiste of Mr. Fries Man began selling his fries from his backyard four years ago with just $400 to make a go of it.  He got a lot of local (and familial) support and sometime later

While the COVID-19 pandemic has hit small businesses hard, the restaurant Mr. Fries Man has been able to expand and franchise.

With $400 and support from his family and the community, Batiste and his wife Dorothy  got to work selling fries. Around a year later they were able to open their first location in 2017 in Gardena, California without any bank loans or investors.

now there is a franchise in Los Angeles. Located at 3844 S Figueroa Street, this is part of the expansion that has resulted in an opening of 21 locations in 7 months.  Batiste puts his success down to support from family and community and the work he does on social media which has resulted in 350,000 Instagram followers.

Local Small Business and Chicago Urban Main Market

The coronavirus pandemic has taken an economic toll on everyone, individually, community, and especially with businesses, more specifically small businesses and their owners.  Chicago has been no different.

But there has been one organization that has been trying to ease the strain for these people and their companies.  That is Cakewalk Chicago, a company offering dessert and candy decorating kits for any person (or company) that wishes to enhance their an attempt to bolster its own business downtown, Cakewalk has been using an organization – Chicago Urban Main Market – to promote local small businesses.  This has resulted in increasing awareness about Cakewalk.   Likewise, Sweet Freaks and Beverly Dry Goods has been using the organization and also reaping the benefits.

Urban Main is under the National Main Street Center (NMSC) umbrella which seeks to offer help to local communities and districts lacking the resources needed to grow their businesses.  With a focus on “economic vitality” and “quality of life” the nonprofit organization has been working for over four decades in such revitalization efforts.

Help for Small Local Businesses

Thanks to the BIG Program (Business Interruption Grants), local small businesses are receiving financial assistance for losses caused by the coronavirus pandemic. 

More than $220m is in the BIG funds and will be earmarked for those businesses hardest hit by the pandemic, with a special focus  on Illinois’ most economically-distressed communities.

The State of Illinois has created the Business Interruption Grants (BIG) program for small businesses in Illinois suffering losses as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic as well as communities impacted by the recent civil unrest. Applications are open and will offer over $220 million in funds for small businesses hit hardest by the ongoing pandemic, with a focus on economically distressed communities across Illinois.

Further, an announcement was made by Governor Pritzker regarding the $245m that will be available for small businesses either damaged from looting or from having to close up.  He also referred to the reality that if federal funding does not come through, many businesses will have to shutter for good, resulting in thousands more being unemployed. 

Regarding the BIG Program, Pritzker said:

“It was important to me and to the legislature to alleviate some of the burden that’s carried by these small businesses, particularly those facing long-standing structural barriers.”

The first round of this program offered $49m in funding for small businesses but that was focused on the ones which had to completely shut down in the spring. This next round is going to be open to businesses in all industries, with at least 50% of the grants going to businesses in rural and downstate communities.

Local Wage Increase

At the beginning of this month minimum wage increased by a dollar per hour in Chicago and throughout Illinois.  Employers who have over 21 workers will have to pay them at least $14; smaller businesses will be increased to $13.50. Per month on average this will translate into an additional $120 for a monthly salary.

According to Secretary Treasurer for the Chicago Federation of Labor, Don Villar:

“This is a great step for workers, but more needs to be done to life up the workers in Chicago and across the state of Illinois.”

However, there is still a long way to go.  The Chicago Federation of Labor has pointed out that this still won’t be enough.  Governor J. B. Pritzker said:

“It’s important for us to stand up for people who are working class, people who cannot otherwise afford to maintain their home. We do not want people to become homeless in this difficult crisis.”

Re-opening of Illinois: Phase 3

Many stores have begun reopening and people are returning to work.  According to Illinois Department of Public Health figures there has been a drop in the number of coronavirus tests returning positive. That number is less than the limit that is needed to move on to Phase 3 and hence it went ahead in Chicago and three other areas.

With Phase 3 people will also be able to attend group gatherings of up to 10 people and participate in sport/outdoor activities whereby social distancing rulings can be adhered to. Governor Pritzker said:

“In every aspect of our pandemic response, and especially as we begin to safely reopen meaningful swaths of our economy, our number one priority must be the health and safety of our workers, our customers, and Illinoisans at large.”

Additionally, it is hope that other non-essential businesses (like childcare center, outdoor eateries and hairdressers) will be permitted to re-open by mid-June.

Chicago Businesses Debuting

There have been some new businesses opening locally.  Here we take a look at some of them.  For Mexican food lovers, mosey on down to 2022 W. 35th Street where El Chile Toreado recently opened.   For those who want to try Ahogada, Cubana, Carne Asada and so much more, these are just some of the dishes on offer.

There is also something for beer lovers.  The latest venture to tantalize your taste buds in the region is the Burning Bush Brewery featuring a variety of changing local brews as well as wine on tap.  Take a bite to eat there from their food trucks or snack menu which includes bread sticks, cheese and crackers.

What a great name for an optometrist.  Eye Q Optique has just joined the hood at 709 S. Seely Avenue.  

In other Chicago-based news, City Hall veteran Tiffany Hamel Johnson was just named CEO of Chicago United, succeeding Gloria Castillo.  As the first African American female chief in the position (which was inaugurated in 1968), this appointment is most noteworthy.