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Nadya Faulx/MEDILL

Michael Gehant (right) assists a customer at his J&R Variety Store on South Pulaski Road.  His "old-fashioned dime store" has been a fixture in the West Lawn community for over 50 years.

3rd District residents point to economy as a key concern

by Nadya Faulx
Oct 04, 2012

A weak economy and struggling businesses remain top concerns in the lead-up to the Nov. 6 elections, say residents interviewed this week in Illinois’ 3rd Congressional District.

Residents surveyed in Oak Lawn, Marquette Park and Bridgeview pointed to struggling small businesses as a sign of the continued economic recession.

Amanda Escudero, executive director of the nonprofit Bridgeview Chamber of Commerce, said the neighborhood economy has experienced a “pretty steady decline” in recent years.

“Small businesses have suffered,” she said. “We have lost quite a few members because they do not have enough funds to do extra-curricular things, like participate in the chamber.”

“We lose about three to five businesses a month, and only gain about one to two,” she said.

There were approximately 1.1 million small businesses, defined as having fewer than 500 employees, in Illinois in 2009, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration. U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Chicago), who represents the district, touts on his website his sponsorship of a bill promoting American manufacturing and middle-class jobs that passed in the House last month.

The 10 residents surveyed were unaware of or uninterested in the 3rd District race between Lipinski and Republican challenger Richard Grabowski. Local politics are taking a backseat to everyday concerns about uncertain economics.

“I’m not really following the election,” said Octavio Guerrero of West Elsdon. He runs a daycare with his wife, and despite national economic trends, says business is strong.

“We’re doing pretty good,” he said. “Every year there’s more kids. There’s always new business.”

Alex Cotton, a member of the U.S. Marine Corps, is hopeful the economy will be stronger when his time with the military is over.

“In about three years, I should be back in civilian life, and I’ll look for a job,” he said. “The economy was rough when I got in; that’s why I joined.”

Escudero declined to discuss the election and what results might mean for the Bridgeview community, saying, “I can’t comment on politics — I can only speak for the chamber.”

Her organization is working to keep member businesses afloat, she explained. “We advertise for them as much as we possibly can, do promotional things,” she said.

It’s a tactic that has also helped Alfredo Mones, who started Mones Printing 20 years ago.

Though “business has slowed down,” the West Lawn businessman said, “We have advertisements in one magazine, one newspaper, two Yellowpages, a church bulletin, and a website.

“Business picks up a little,” he said, “but it’s not as it used to be.”