Chicago’s 75th Street: Hub of Black Excellence and Resilience

For decades, 75th Street has been home to a thriving stretch of Black-owned businesses.

Within a one to two-mile stretch, 75th has nearly 40 Black-owned businesses, including local staples such as Lem’s Bar-B-Q, Brown Sugar Bakery, Soul Veg City, The 50 Yard Line and KMT Health Food Store, all within walking distance of one another. 

Providing countless services, products and jobs, 75th Street embodies Black excellence and Black wealth. The stretch between State Street and Cottage Grove is a one-stop location for consumers needing a dry cleaner, food, shoe repairs, health and wellness items, childcare, copy and print services, beauty and barber shops, art and more. 

Indeed, the success and longevity of these entities are not by chance but by design. The Greater Chatham Initiative has worked intensely to ensure each of these businesses continues to flourish. Installing boardwalks outside multiple companies providing seating and games helped several storefronts sustain through the pandemic. 

Its website states, “The Greater Chatham Initiative was born from a comprehensive plan for economic growth and neighborhood vitality. Our mission is to strategically invest in the Chicago communities of ChathamGreater Grand CrossingAvalon Park and Auburn Gresham so they can re-emerge as communities of opportunity and choice.” 

With over 5,200 businesses between those communities, the area employs over 58,000 people. Over the past seven years, companies in the area have received $360 million in investments, reflected in the overflow of Black businesses and wealth along 75th Street and beyond.

“One of the things I love about Chatham is its entrepreneurial spirit,” said Nedra Fears, executive director of The Greater Chatham Initiative. “I think you see that embodied on 75th Street. Seventy-fifth Street is one of the most successful Black stretched corridors in Chicago.”

“The nucleus of food-based businesses along 75th Street really reinforce each other,” Fears said. For instance, “When you go to Lem’s and decide you want some veggies, you can walk down the Street to Soul Veg to pick up some mac and cheese and greens. And then decide you’re going to have dessert, so you go to Brown Sugar Bakery, and then you go to A&S and pick up a bottle of wine… it’s a virtuous cycle, and it makes it a unique offering that many communities don’t have.”

Carmen Lemons owns Lem’s Bar-B-Q, a third-generation family business with committed patrons who travel from over a 25-mile radius just to taste its savory dishes. 

Fears shared how she “was there [one day], and there was a woman buying a gallon Lem’s barbecue sauce to put in her suitcase to take it back home to Oakland… and when we had the civil unrest, people were [still] standing in line to get Lem’s.” 

Indeed, they have very loyal followers.

Similarly, Soul Veg City, a second-generation family restaurant, is the original vegetarian restaurant in Chicago. “They pioneered vegetarianism before it became a thing,” said Fears.

Due to the efforts of The Greater Chatham initiative, the Chatham neighborhood has seen a tremendous improvement with increases in employment and homeownership.

“More people are gainfully employed, so we have higher workforce participation, lower unemployment rates, and street crime is down as well,” shared Fears. 

Regarding the future of the economically enriched Black Strip, 75th Street can plan to see more restaurants coming to the area. 

The beloved brunch restaurant 5 Loaves Eatery will be returning. The current Harold’s Chicken, right off 75th and King Drive, received the Chicago Recovery Fund, resulting in a storefront remodeling. One of the most highly anticipated business openings is a new wine and charcuterie bar coming to 75th and St. Lawrence soon. 

Below is a list of the Black-owned businesses located on 75th, between State Street and Cottage Grove. The longevity and success of these businesses start with the everlasting and continued support of the community. Keep giving back and shop Black. 

50 Yard Line

Health & Wellness Shop

Soul Veg City

Nadia’s Beauty Salon

KMT Health Food Store

Authentic Cooking Soul Food Kitchen

Paris Cleaners

Brown Sugar Bakery

Mabe’s Sandwich Shop

Frances Cocktail Lounge

Lem’s Bar-B-Q

Stylez Caribbean Snack Shop

Sim’s Cleaners 

Tailors Row – Shoe Repair

Cannon’s T-Shirts & More

Harold’s Chicken

Space Age Marketing

The Learning Place (Daycare)

Star African Pro Hair Braiding

Natural Vibrations (Reggae Smoke Shop)

The Woodshop (Picture Frame Shop)

Jamaican Jerk 

Townsend Dental Clinic

Fletcher’s 1 Stop (Record Store)

Flowers First By Erskine

All About Kid Learning Academy

Marlon’s Chicken

Signature Tax Services 

Flamingo Restaurants & Co

Let the World Know (Party Equipment Rental Services)

Feminine Edge Barber Salon

President’s Lounge 

Back to Eden (Braiding Salon)

iWink Lash & Brow Beauty Bar

Revenge Salon Suites (Hair Salon)

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