Jackie Jackson walked into an ice cream shop after losing her mother. It was comforting. She decided Chicago needed more of that.
She opened a Kilwins Ice Cream and Fudge franchise on Michigan Avenue, another in Hyde Park, and launched a Navy Pier location when the COVID-19 pandemic and Governor JB Pritzker’s mandatory shutdowns hit.
“When COVID first started, I was devastated because we just got into our Michigan Avenue store. The rent was about $ 14,000 a month. So it was a disaster. I just saw my whole life just go in the sink.”
Jackson and the satisfaction she offered her customers was considered “non-essential.” They had to close their doors. The layoff at the Michigan Avenue store alone hit $ 70,000, and the other bills kept coming.
George Floyd was then murdered. Riots in the summer of 2020 swept through her store on Michigan Avenue.
“I dropped a pen on the floor and I looked up and saw all my glass shattered. They took the iPad, the laptop; they even took things that do not make sense. A few blocks away there was another African American. [business] owner outside swept some glasses and he was knocked unconscious. Never again would I try to protect anything; it’s just not worth my life, ”Jackson said.
All the while, the government’s promised wage security and loans to small businesses remained elusive.
“We kept being denied the OPP loan, and we did not hear anything for a long time. We did not have time. We had to pay our bills, ”Jackson said. “We invested everything in opening our Navy Pier store and we could not qualify for any kind of loan or grant.”
Jackson and her partners continued. They found a way to open up the Navy Pier location, a decades-long effort that they made successful despite the pandemic’s mandates.
But another setback awaited. In November 2021, 26 bullets pierced their location in Hyde Park. No one was injured, but they closed the store.
“We had to take a timeout because we never really dealt with the emotional effects of the looting in 2020,” Jackson said. “Mental health is important, and it was very important to me and my team members and my staff that we just took the time to really take care of ourselves and closed the store temporarily.”
The pandemic waves and government mandates shut down many businesses, causing nearly one in three hospitality and restaurant workers to lose their jobs. Only 72% of these jobs have returned – the worst rate in the Midwest and the third worst in the country.
“But one thing about this pandemic, it was pretty much a reset button,” Jackson said. “We got a timeout. We had nothing else to do, so we started learning. We reinvented ourselves.”
Across Illinois, there are still 84,200 leisure and hospitality jobs missing compared to before the pandemic. Chicago has lost over 1,500 restaurants in the past two years.
Jackson and her team continue to work to reverse those numbers.
They took over Kilwins in Geneva, Illinois. That means they doubled their Kilwin’s position during a pandemic.
The time spent on research showed Jackson an option with drive-thru dining. They found an old bank in Chatham and received a grant from the Neighborhood Opportunity Fund to bring a west coast chain, the Fatburger, to Chicago’s South Side. They are due to open in April.
Despite rising product costs, supply chain problems and violent encounters in her stores, Jackson remains hopeful.
“We have decided not to leave Hyde Park. We can not wait to come back with a brand new store and really give that neighborhood what they deserve,” she said. “We can not let this crime stop us.”
It would be easy to understand that Jackson was a little bitter on this two-year anniversary of the pandemic shutdown. Crime, failed promises of aid, and government restrictions driven by a governor who has been allowed to rule by a decree for two years have left many that way.
“Between looting and loss of tourism in the center, we fell in 2020 by 75% in sales. Two years later, we fall by 55% in sales. But because the landlord is working with us on Michigan Avenue, we’re pushing forward. “
Jackson is too busy pushing forward to make “bitter.”
“So we no longer want to be considered the victim,” she said. “We want to be considered very victorious.”