Bronzeville residents and business owners are concerned that there is not enough development in their South Side neighborhood and, as a result, not enough traffic to sustain businesses trying to make a home in the area.
Residents said they would like to see the neighborhood go back to how it was in the 1960s when it was known as “Chicago’s Blues District,” a neighborhood that provided prime entertainment venues for African-Americans.
Mary Lindsey, owner of the Jokes and Notes comedy club located at 4641 S. King Dr. in Bronzeville, recalls hearing stories from her family about how they used to party in the neighborhood. She said they always bragged about seeing the likes of James Brown, Muddy Waters and Stevie Wonder at venues such as the Checkerboard Lounge (now located at 5201 S. Harper Ave. in Hyde Park) and the Regal Theater (now located at 1645 E. 79th St. in Avalon Park). It’s one of the reasons why she wanted to have a business in the neighborhood.
Lindsey said she opened Jokes and Notes in January of 2006 because she wanted to be a part of the revitalization of the neighborhood. She wanted to provide people with the same memories that her family had when they spoke of Bronzeville. Now she isn’t as confident it will happen.
“Bronzeville is lacking the businesses that could bring more people to the area,” said Lindsey, who recently entertained the thought of relocating the comedy club out of the neighborhood due to the lack of traffic in the area.
Lindsey said she thinks the abandoned building and vacant lot across the street from her establishment could be used to bring in a major restaurant chain such as Applebee’s or Chili’s, which she said would help attract more people to the area.
“Something like that would really show people that change is coming to their neighborhood,” Lindsey said.
She said she was also originally attracted to the area because it was just steps away from the Harold Washington Cultural Center, located on the corner of 47th and King Drive. Although she now has mixed feelings about the facility, she hopes that with the Chicago City Colleges takeover it will provide more programming geared toward an older crowd, instead of the hip-hop concerts and hair shows she said it currently hosts.
Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) said she acknowledges the lack of nightlife in Bronzeville and said she is open to bringing more businesses into the neighborhood.
Anthony Beckham, co-partner of Le Fleur De Lis, a Creole-style restaurant located at 301 E. 43rd St., said the history of the neighborhood is what attracted him to the area. He also said he wanted to provide the neighborhood with something that hasn’t been there in years: a sit-down restaurant where you can get good food without having to go on the other side of town.
“This is a historic area and we need to come with ways to make it better,” said James Hudson, a singer/producer and five-year resident of Bronzeville.
Hudson, 57, says that when he goes on a date he would like to expose someone to the culture of his neighborhood instead of venturing off to suburbs like Tinley Park, Schaumberg and Oakbrook to show someone a good time.
“It would be nice to be able to show someone another side of me, and that’s the community in which I live,” Hudson said. “I’m sure that would leave an impression.”