Most entrepreneurs put their blood, sweat, and tears into starting and supporting their dream of business ownership. This task requires an exhaustive effort, and they do whatever it takes to stay in business. According to alltopstartups.com, “the location of a business can make or break a business. Location can also influence a business’s ability to market itself, the competition it faces from other businesses, the total cost of operation, taxes the business owner has to pay, and the regulations they must follow.”
On October 10, 2019, two young teenagers, Tyrell Wade, 17 and Christin Ross, 18, were shot and killed outside of the Macy’s department store in the River Oaks Center located in south suburban Calumet City, IL. Dajon Lewis, 18, of Grinnell, Iowa, was charged with two counts of first-degree murder in the case that shocked those who grew up with the popular mall but are witnessing its decline. The public was led to believe that it was an isolated incident, and the victims were targeted. However, business owners and those who frequent the mall say they witness safety issues daily, including theft, violence, intimidation, and fear.
River Oaks business owners, along with community members, believe safety issues at River Oaks are all of our problems to solve because although the shooting happened outside of the mall doors, the incident initiated inside of the mall itself. Furthermore, this was not the first incident of violence, and they believe that it will not be the last.
Christin Ross & Tyrell Wade were gunned down at River Oaks Mall October 10, 2019
Small business owners Allison Jordan; owner/operator of Epic Arts and Entertainment, along with Tonya Mahomes; owners of Gourmet Popcorn and Pizza, (both located inside of the River Oaks Center) teamed up with Camiella D. Williams, Congressional Organizer, Trustee for Prairie State and the National Organizer for Future4Future Network, to organize a Town Hall meeting on Thursday, November 21, 2019, for all River Oaks Mall business owners and the general public to attend.
Epic Arts and Entertainment acting class with students. Courtesy of Allison Jordan
“The invitation was sent to NAMDAR (the mall owners and management), every business inside the mall, the local police task force, School District 37, church leaders, civic leaders, residents, local government, and other local businesses,” Jordan said. “A press release was sent out for the media to be present, but the story stalled shortly after. The purpose of the meeting was to address the unfortunate shooting deaths, the threat of other acts of violence inside of the mall before the past holiday shopping season, the threat to the stability of each business financially, and the damage from these ongoing public safety incidents.”
The meeting addressed several safety concerns, including a lack of security, discussion on the need for a potential armed guard, a mall implemented safety plan (other malls protocol), ongoing retail theft, and a security strategy for the holiday season. There were also concerns about the infrastructure of the mall itself, which was built in 1966 and renovated in 1994. Mall tenants are concerned about potential code violations, which include electrical problems, plumbing issues, infestation, no lights in parking lots, and no lights in the dumpster area. There was also a call for stricter business codes and more community involvement, which included: equity, business licensing, insurance, breach of contracts, state allocated funds, the creation of a yearly peace concert, revamping marketing to the public, and a media strategy to bring back customers.
Jordan went on to state that “she believes: her business wasn’t the only one affected by the incident and walked around the mall to speak to other businesses to find out if they wanted to unite to form Change Together, an Advocacy Group that stands-up for businesses, against violence and for equality” She met with local government including the mayor’s office and the Alderman of 5th Ward, Anthony Smith, and the other business owners to bring attention to the issues at the mall. Since then, she has received some support, and many of the issues were addressed because of her activism. Still, parents took their children out of her program, and some made their teenagers quit their jobs at the mall.
According to Mahomes, she witnessed a drop of 60% of her sales in one day after the violent incident and since then, more of the community has begun to turn its back on businesses where they once felt safe to dine, shop and for their children to hang-out. She went on to say that “staffing became a problem because our workforce was disrupted after people quit their positions, but she is going to keep her business in the mall.”
Epic Arts and Entertainment beginner ballet students. Courtesy of Allison Jordan
Tio Hardimon, Criminologist, and Professor of Criminal Justice believes that the high unemployment rate of black youth in the Chicagoland area is the reason. Hardimon stated, “that violence in these communities with low employment sparks like an infectious disease; therefore, it is limited by where it is tolerated.” Hardimon, who is an activist and also the founder of Violence Interpreters went on to say “violence is a precursor to businesses leaving the south and west sides of Chicago, and can be seen daily as you drive by and see blocks and blocks of boarded-up buildings where thriving business use to be.” He stated, “the answers are community outreach programs that recruit youth off the street combined with working with the local chamber of commerce to help unify the neighborhoods and lower the violent incidents of robbery and shootings.”
According to the Small Business Association (SBA) Office of Advocacy, 99.7% of all companies in the United States are small companies that employ over 50% of the available private labor force, or approximately 120 million people. Furthermore, about 27.8 million small businesses exist in the United States, and 22 million small businesses employ only one person. If the report is accurate, nearly 55 million people depend upon small businesses, 79.4% of all small businesses have no employees, and the majority of the remaining small businesses have fewer than twenty employees. This means small businesses created at least sixty-five percent of all new jobs since the mid-nineties.
So what is the rate of survival for new businesses?
This is difficult to calculate because the survivability rates for new business statistics merely use the raw number of new companies started in a year and the number of companies that failed during that year to compute the rate. Until the data is collected on all business past the first year, we can only see the survival rate of companies started in the three years, who’s survival rates are much higher. Seventy percent of new employer firms survive at least two years; approximately half of all new companies survive five or more years; nearly one-third survive ten or more years; one-quarter survive longer than 15 years. So the success rate for new business start-ups is quite good. There are various reasons why a business can fail or die prematurely, but violence in the area, as we have seen, can have a devastating impact on all of our communities.
Unfortunately, the community could lose places like Epic Arts and Entertainment, which is a program that supports over 100 children between the ages of 3-18 and their families. Allison stated: “she began this program because she was determined to create a place where the child could improve their lives and be safe from crime and violence in their neighborhoods while using her background and love of the arts to give them an alternative to sports.” “We must all work together to make our communities safer because our children are our future and they deserve to have a place to thrive,” she believes.
By: Alisha Roberts-Novak, Contributing Writer