Have you ever been to the intersection of Madison and Pulaski? Even more to the point, have you ever shopped there? If you’re reading this, most likely the answer to both questions is no. The heart of West Garfield Park’s commercial district, the Madison-Pulaski Commercial Corridor, today appears as an array of underused businesses in decline, barely surviving in an economically depressed neighborhood.

But, let’s go back in time. Madison-Pulaski was a thriving commercial district early in the 20th century, home to many businesses and hotels as well as venues for jazz and theater. Beginning in the 1950’s, the district began a long decline, punctuated by the unrest and violence of 1968. Today, the district is trafficked by primarily local, black patrons, shopping at run-down storefronts owned by white money. There is little or no influx of dollars from outside the West Garfield Park area, and woefully little money within the neighborhood. It is striking to visit this business corridor. The edifices are classic, but the facades are worn and tarnished. There seems little hope.

What is the opportunity? We must find ways to infuse dollars from outside the community to re-energize its business and residents – because the community does not have the resources on its own. It will take courage and an inspired alliance among city government, community leaders, consumers and conscious business. Conscious business with a commitment to adding value to all its stakeholders – employees, customers, suppliers and the community that it operates within.

Whole Foods is making just such a bold move on West 63 St. in Englewood on the South Side. Investing in a community, encouraging local hiring, disrupting “food desert” eating habits – and inviting dollars from outside Englewood to flow into the community. Too often, we expect someone else to “fix” the urban problems that we have all contributed to over the years. Conscious business is part of the antidote – in partnership with other stakeholders.

How can we do the same for the Madison-Pulaski Corridor and other neighborhoods so that our city can grow in beauty, prosperity and happiness?

 

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