‘Chicago Tonight’ in Your Neighborhood: Revisiting Austin | Chicago News
Located on Chicago’s West Side, Austin is one of the city’s largest community areas — both by population and geography. It’s home to beloved MacArthur’s “fine southern cuisine” Restaurant, the old Victorian pink-and-white house and other historic buildings.
Austin — like many other communities on the city’s South and West sides — has dealt with decades of disinvestment, and it is acutely feeling the impact of gun violence in Chicago. However, many residents, community organizations and local businesses are working to address some of the systemic issues the community faces, and to bring investment to the area.
Mental health services are an important part of BUILD’s work,
said Bradly Johnson, director of external affairs. It has a Mobile Mental Health team that travels around the community to increase access to behavioral health services.
And development is underway to create a larger facility at its West Harrison Street location.
“Currently in our building, we have 100 kids and that’s tight. Once we open the doors, we will be able to have about 2,000 kids in the building at once,” said Adam Alonso, CEO of BUILD Chicago. “It’s amazing that there are 2,000 kids that want to be in a positive space doing amazing things.”
The new facility will be a three story, 51,000-square foot-building. Alonso says it will house a technology center, a training kitchen, an athletic facility, a media space and a woodworking room. The campus will operate from 6 a.m. until midnight.
“If we are telling young people to find another outlet instead of being involved in violence, you have to give them something in exchange, and so we’ve done a lot of work to provide avenues for real activities, Johnson said.”
Construction on the facility is expected to begin in October, with a completion date of Fall 2022.
Video: Watch our full interview with Bradly Johnson
Local Businesses Investing in Austin
A Black-owned grocery story is underway in Austin. Forty Acres Fresh Market is a startup grocer that has been operating pop up grocery stores, along with delivery services in Austin since 2018. In 2020, owner Liz Abunaw, along with the organization’s partners including Westside Health Authority, secured a location on Chicago Avenue to open a brick and mortar store.
Abunaw says the grocery store will help bring economic investment to the community, keeping dollars in Austin and providing job opportunities to residents, in addition to increasing access to fresh food in an area that some consider a food desert.
“Access to healthy foods is just a part of the impact,” Abunaw said. “It’s needed in terms of the jobs that it creates, both temporary and permanent. It’s needed because … I’d like to think that what we are doing is transformational design. It changes the way the streetscape looks and the corridor looks.”
This summer, Forty Acres Fresh Market is hosting a weekly farmers market at Austin Town Hall Park on Thursday afternoons. Abunaw hopes to open the brick and mortar location during the third quarter of 2022.
Video: Watch our full interview with Liz Abunaw
Another small business investing in Austin is Schweet Cheesecake, a shop on Chicago Avenue. Co-owner Chamille Weddington helps other entrepreneurs by inviting them to showcase their work at her store.
“We have a program called ‘Ujamma,’ it’s a promotional opportunity where entrepreneurs can display their merchandise on our shelves and when people come in, they get to see handmade artisan crafted stuff. There’s a business that makes candles and another that makes handcrafted gift boxes,” Weddington said.
Weddington has been able to keep the business afloat through the pandemic. She hopes for continued economic growth in the neighborhood where she was born and raised.
“I would love to see thriving storefronts and that’s not difficult, we have the real estate. We just need, I would like to say, resources and the right products that bring value to a community,” Weddington said.
Meanwhile, the Austin Chamber of Commerce is working on bringing an outdoor dining program to the neighborhood, as a part of the citywide Alfresco program. The program would be the first of its kind in Austin, organizers say.
“Something I can tell you is that there’s no outdoor seating,” said Tina Augustus, executive director of the Austin Chamber of Commerce. “There’s seating all over the city except the West Side, so this was our opportunity to bring outdoor seating, while creating outdoor arts and culture spots.”
The Chamber of Commerce is part of a larger initiative called “Austin Forward. Together,” which includes 11 projects around the area, including pop-up basketball courts.
Community Reporting Series
“Chicago Tonight” is expanding its community reporting. We’re hitting the streets to speak with your neighbors, local businesses, agencies and leaders about COVID-19, the economy, racial justice, education and more. See where we’ve been and what we’ve learned by using the map below. Or select a community using the drop-down menu. Points in red represent our series COVID-19 Across Chicago; blue marks our series “Chicago Tonight” in Your Neighborhood.