Pop-ups expected to grow in Chicago thanks to new licensing system

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Watch for more pop-up restaurants, stores and services across Chicago.

Watch for more pop-up restaurants, stores and services across Chicago.

The city unveiled a new licensing system Monday to make it easier for micro-businesses to open. It's a way to cultivate entrepreneurship in the city's diverse neighborhoods.

At the corner of 79th and Woodlawn sits a community hub bursting with economic activity. The brainchild of Donnell Digby, The Woodlawn hosts small businesses looking to get traction for their wares -- in this case, comfort food from Doughboy's Chicago. The Woodlawn is the recipient of Chicago's first license as a pop-up host.

"We are here to bring opportunity to fellow entrepreneurs, chefs, caterers to come into our space and bring their menus and their experience here and try and give it to the community," Digby said.

A rotating cast of pop-up chefs will now be able to obtain licenses for 30 to 90 days costing no more than $100 to establish a retail track record. Non-food businesses are expected to join in as well.

"A lot of individuals who maybe didn't know how to do it, the guidance, the format, the structure now is there to grow their dreams," said Chris Dofriesen, Doughboy Chicago.

The city shadowed these and other entrepreneurs in the food, fashion and media worlds, among others, and saw they were creating economic activity. But there needed to be a regulatory framework to allow them to formalize their businesses.

"To not only support him, but all the entrepreneurs, through his kitchen and through being a pop-up host to allow the pop-up users to come in, those users can then go and pop in and out of other locations throughout the city," Chicago Department of Business Affairs Commissioner Rosa Escareno said.

"We have been asking for this, now we have it. And community, I need you all to get out here to make sure we are supporting our small businesses," said Ald. Michelle Harris, 8th Ward.

Pop-ups are expected to grow around the city. Landlords will have more opportunity to rent vacant storefronts, and the city will push this initiative at information sessions this month.

Donnell Digby comes from a historically entrepreneurial family and his leadership in the Avalon neighborhood looks to be well-received -- an example of what happens when people who care come together.
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