A COVID-19 Casualty Three Blocks Away

By Edward M. Bury, APR, MA (aka The PRDude)

The news yesterday that a near century-old Chicago entertainment venue with a storied history closed due to the financial crush brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic will more than likely be followed by more sad business news in the months to come.

How many other modest storefronts are now shuttered due to the pandemic?

But what’s often lost these days is the shuttering of less iconic, less well-known establishments across the metropolitan region — and certainly around the world.

As noted in this Chicago Tribune article, the owners of Southport Lanes in the Lakeview neighborhood announced the place will serve its last customers September 27. Read the Trib piece to get full history of the property, originally built as a Schlitz tavern.

Southport Lanes is located in one of the desirable neighborhoods in Chicago, and pre-pandemic I trust the place was packed and profitable. Come on!  It had manual pin setters.  How cool is that?

The image here shows a much different retail property, one now closed due to a loss of business since restrictions were enacted in March.

This storefront housed La Cocina, a no-frills but delightful Mexican restaurant located three blocks from our home in Avondale.  Like many small restaurants, the team at this corner spot tried to survive with take out service.

That lasted a few months. Then, on a walk the other day, I saw the store darkened, the “For Rent” sign on the door.

Over the years, we visited La Cocina periodically for their dollar Taco Tuesday and other specials. The food was fresh and good, and the manager, a smiling young man named Danny, made every visit a pleasure.

Did La Cocina have “The Best Tacos in Town,” as noted on window? That’s debatable. But it was a modest fixture in Avondale for a decade or so. Its loss is certainly measurable.

I trust there will not be much — if any — reporting on the loss of this little restaurant. That’s what inspired this post today.

Is a “Batman” Needed to Help Chicago?

By Edward M. Bury, APR, MA (aka The PRDude)

A comment last week within a social media post from a friend was compelling, provocative and poignant. After reading it, initially I was angered.

Could the Caped Crusader prevent Chicago from slipping closer to the edge of the economic, moral and cultural precipice? Image courtesy of CelebrityWebFan.com

But given the crime and unrest that has taken place in the place I call home, the analogy he presented is somewhat accurate (at least from a metaphorical perspective) and perhaps warranted (certainly given the damage done).

Here’s what I’m referring to.

My friend, who has been quite successful in the business world, visited Chicago last week, a few days after looters pillaged stores and shops along North Michigan Avenue and other locations around town.  I won’t go into details, but if you are unaware of what took place, it’s easy to find content, video and images with a Google search.

What my friend — who’s visited the city numerous times — experienced during his recent visit were ransacked businesses shuttered with plywood, bridges over the Chicago River raised to control access to the downtown area, and a pervasive atmosphere of lawlessness and fear. The vibrancy of a world-class city was put on hold, the once vibrant nightlife virtually extinguished.

He referred to the state of Chicago’s central core as a place akin to a Batman film. Perhaps much too exaggerated and excessive a comparison, yet equating Chicago to the lawless fictional Gotham City resonated with me.

It’s been months since I’ve visited North Michigan Avenue, the Riverwalk, the Loop or Millennium Park. The pandemic was the key factor why. Now, I’m ambivalent about what to expect.

What I’ve viewed on television following the looting last week is not the Chicago I know, and I maintain the recent calloused and criminal actions of a handful of people will not usher repeated and unbridled violence, resulting in a hollowed remnant of the great Midwestern metropolis where I’ve lived most of my life.

So to the question noted in the title to this post: No, we don’t need a Batman in Chicago.

We need assurances and strategic directives from those who are elected and paid to run the city that cowards who attempt to pillage and destroy property will be prevented from doing so. We need assurances from law enforcement and prosecutors that justice will be carried out. We need assurances from people across the city and metropolitan area — those with moral fiber to determine right from wrong — to admonish those who loot.

We don’t need a fictional superhero to mend Chicago. There are enough heroes here already to do the job.

 

 

 

 

 

Rock and Roll Redux: Memories of Chicago Bands, Two Buck Covers and Quarter Beers

By Edward M. Bury, APR, MA (aka The PRDude)

During these (fill in the blank with your favorite adjective) times, many pass time by completing a 1,000-piece puzzle, binge-watching six seasons of a program offered on one of the premium channels or diverting attention to the past.

Me? Well, we have a nice puzzle, but I haven’t started it yet. As for television, I watch enough already, but I have found reruns and current episodes of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit provide a welcomed 60-minute escape before the 10 p.m. evening news.

Ah, the Thirsty Whale. Can’t fathom how many times I visited this cavernous club. There’s a combination gas station and McDonald’s on the site now.

And like many, I find ways to escape to a different time, specifically, the 1980s when I employed my passion for rock and roll and ability to write to take part in the vibrant Chicago rock community.

For around a dozen years, I was a regular contributor to the Illinois Entertainer, a free monthly that’s still published.

I relive those often raucous, often loud days and nights by reading posts, listening to music by local artists found on YouTube and scanning print ads from the scores of now-gone music venues that appear on the Chicago Bar Bands 1975 Through 1982 Facebook public group.

The group name is a bit of a misnomer, as many of the acts covered on the site gigged through the end of the ’80s decade and beyond. Some are still making noise today.

This was a time when club rock music was dominated by bands with big hair, big guitar sounds from big amps and big dreams.  It was an era defined by a musical gumbo of post punk, metal, New Wave and other less discernible genres. To be part of this scene came cheap: Two dollar (perhaps three or four on weekends) cover charges and week night specials featuring quarter beers.

And, I was part of it — visiting clubs, conducting interviews backstage, writing record reviews — in essence being a cog of sorts in a scene that’s mostly gone.

Contributors to the just-mentioned Facebook group, specifically Illinois Entertainer founder and former publisher Ken Voss,add nuggets of history on artists and bands that may largely be forgotten had the information not be shared digitally. Display ads, like the one shown above, capture the depth and breadth of the local live 1980’s club scene, one that’s, of course, now much diminished.

On occasion, I’ll add a Facebook comment regarding shows I remember or the acts I covered.  (For the record, I was the de facto metal correspondent for a while; surprisingly, my hearing is intact.)  My huge binder of print clips was tossed prior to a move years ago, however I still have the October 1989 issue of IE featuring a cover story I wrote on the still vital band Enuff Znuff.

Stepping back three-plus decades to revel in an era of Chicago rock and roll allows me to press the pause button on the fears and confusion that dominates our world today — even if it’s just for a few minutes.

Two buck cover charges and quarter beers assuredly won’t return. But when the fallout from the pandemic, economic meltdown and unrest is gone, perhaps live rock and roll played in small clubs will return, and hopefully provide new memories to savor.

 

 

 

 

Questions! I Have Questions to Ponder in the Year Ahead

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

“As we pull back the curtain on 2019 …” No, that’s contrived, outright hokey.

“With another decade on the horizon …” Been done, a cliche.

“The countdown to a new year begins!  So let’s reflect …” Perhaps appropriate for a television program.

Okay, enough.  I’ll dispense with trying to deliver a clever, inspiring and provocative lead to this post.  What follows are three questions I hope to have answers for in 2020.

Will Public Relations Continue to Remain Vital in Society?

To offer an answer based on my personal perspective, a resounding “Yes!” However, there are, of course, caveats to posting such a declarative response. The public relations profession, in my opinion, needs to continue to define itself as the source of ethical, strategic communications counsel to help build brands and minimize threats in the increasingly digitally-driven landscape. And, as I’ve tried to champion over the last few years, it’s the responsibility of those of us in  public relations to challenge misrepresentations of the profession.

This 2018 LinkedIn article presents my perspectives. Just google “2020 PR trends,” and the results will reveal lots of articles and prognostications.  But take note: My search included this 2015 Inc. magazine article on 10 “bold” projections on public and advertising for the year 2020. The author swung and missed on a few selections, especially the first prediction.

This parcel on Diversey at Francisco avenue once housed a row of modest storefronts. Now, it’s slated for what assuredly will be branded as “luxury” condos.

Will Upscale Real Estate Development Continue Unchecked?

Real estate development is a sign that a market is vital and ready to accommodate growth. But will the preponderance of new apartment, office and mixed-use projects now under development, planned or under consideration in metropolitan Chicago meet market needs or result in over-building?

According to this cool interactive report from Curbed Chicago, there are 33 high-rise projects being built in the city.  Think about that: 33 new “luxury” projects in a city that’s struggling to maintain population, in a city that’s becoming increasingly expensive. The site doesn’t include the more modest projects out in the neighborhoods. Let me conclude this segment by noting, that according to the U.S. Census Bureau, my state of Illinois has lost people for the sixth consecutive year.

Will The Actions of Some People Continue to Leave Me Baffled?

Why, why, why do some people ignore collecting U.S. mail?

Now, something on the less serious side. For a perspective on this question, please note the image showing mailboxes — the old-fashioned kind, the kind that holds the original means of mass communication.  This trio of mailboxes is located at a home just north of where we live. It’s been this way for days, possibly weeks. Who knows: Maybe months. Why don’t the occupants retrieve their mail!

Yes, this is anecdotal, but I’ve observed receptacles full with U.S. mail in other buildings around the neighborhood. I also wonder why so many people these days don’t wear gloves in the winter time, or why some fellow passengers on my morning Blue Line commute think it’s acceptable to stand in the entrance to the el car (on their handhelds, naturally) rather than move into the car.

Perhaps in 2020, which arrives here in a few hours beyond a full day, I’ll learn the answers to these three questions; and hopefully, many, many more.

 

If Your Mother Says She Loves You, Check It Out

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

For those wondering about the title of this post, I’ll get to that shortly. But the crowd of current and former news men and women who gathered last night at a quirky downtown Chicago restaurant certainly know what the phrase embodies.

Long-time city editor Paul Zimbrakos (left) was still engaging, still in control, still a dominant presence as he was in the CNB news room.

The event was a reunion of reporters and editors who worked at the legendary City News Bureau of Chicago.  The adjective “legendary” gets tossed around a lot, but in this case it’s appropriate.

We gathered to help preserve the impact this now-gone local news wire service had on Chicago and the lives of those — like me — who had the opportunity to learn the hard news business in an environment that was always fascinating and hardly ever forgiving.

There were stories and memories recounted: The years worked at City News, surviving the midnight shift, how experience there led to the next job in the news business, and that seminal or most compelling story covered. The atmosphere was loud and embracing, with strangers becoming friends over a drink and conversation about the impact City News had on their lives.

A high-point came when Paul Zimbrakos, the long-time (and I mean decades-long)

The reunion at its zenith. The conversation flowed, the memories recalled.

city editor arrived. I waited my turn to greet Paul, who at first didn’t recognize me. After I gave my name, he noted without hesitation that I once called in sick due to a bee sting.  How did he remember that instance, which took place 40 years ago!  (For the record, I was stung in the neck by a wasp and swelled up like a side-show attraction.)

In conversations, I met people who moved on from City News to work in broadcast journalism and public affairs, or like me, leave the news business for public relations or another communications discipline.

I conversed over the din with one outstanding reporter who worked during my era — 1977 to 1979 — and we shared thoughts on our biggest, most memorable stories: His was going door-to-door in Bridgeport to get perspectives on the death in December of 1976 of Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley, mine was covering the exhuming of bodies from the home of convicted mass murder John Wayne Gacy in December of 1978.

As I rode the Blue Line home later that night, I felt proud and honored to have been a small cog in the news organization that nurtured true journalism.  I look forward to the next reunion and the stories and memories they will bring.

Now, to the title. The message behind this phrase is simple and direct: Investigate, seek confirmation, gathering what’s believed to be the truth. If you don’t believe me, check it out.

 

 

 

But What About Bikes? Three Cycling Actions That Need to Be Deflated

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

Driven in part (every pun intended) by the readership of the June 27 PRDude post offering strategies for the new Chicago electric scooter pilot program, I was prompted to address a similar topic: Thoughts on that other two-wheeled/non-motorized personal mobility mode — the bicycle.

Here, I put the focus on what I believe are three improper and downright dangerous cycling practices that need to be eliminated.

But first, a little history.

From the images that accompany this post, you can deduct that I am a cyclist. Not a daily bike commuter, just a weekend and sometimes-after-work cyclist. The road bike pictured here is a Raleigh Grad Prix I purchased with the money earned working at the Bravco health and beauty aids store in the early 1970s.

I obtained this 23.5 inch cycle from Turin Bicycles, which then was located on Clark Street in Lincoln Park.  I recall the price was $115. It’s still a sweet machine and all original except for the seat, fork, gears, tires and rims.  Okay, so the frame, brakes and handle bars are still original. But I have very fond memories of the miles logged on this bike, even the falls that resulted in a broken nose, a broken wrist and large gash on my right shin.

Now to my suggestions.

Here, I’ve identified three cycle actions that need to be discontinued for the betterment of cyclists, as well as pedestrians, motorists and society in general.

  1. The Overly-Connected Rider.  There’s a time and place to check that email, Instagram or Pintrest account. Riding a bicycle is not one of them.  What would compel a cyclist — or a motorist for that matter — to divert attention to a hand-held device while riding around town is beyond puzzling. It’s downright dangerous. Furthermore, the practice is stupid. If you need an incentive to put that handheld away while cycling, consider this: It’s illegal to talk on the phone or text while bicycling and the penalty is $20-$500.
  2. “Look Ma, No Hands!” Yes, it may appear really cool to ride with no hands, but only until you need to brake or swerve to avoid a pothole or another road impediment or getting “doored.”  I’ve witnessed “no hands” cyclists peddling along quiet side streets and busy arterial thoroughfares like Western Avenue. And, I’ve observed a “hybrid” of sorts: The no-handed rider engaged with a handheld.  Why is this practice considered acceptable?
  3. Put the Brakes on Fixies. As I understand it, a fixed-gear or “fixie” bicycle has no freewheel component — meaning one can’t coast on a fixie. And, some lack brakes.  Let me repeat: Some fixed gear bikes don’t have hand brakes, requiring the rider to skid to come to a stop. Please explain how this type of cycle, which is designed for a velodrome, should be allowed on a public right-of-way.

If fellow cyclists need to refresh safe cycling practices, the Illinois Secretary of State produced this excellent “Bicycle Rules of the Road” document.

On this spectacular Sunday in Chicago, we’re planning to hitch our bikes to the car rack and bike one of the North Shore trails. Will be alert for a no-handed cyclist on a fixie checking his or her handheld.

 

 

 

 

One Image, One Question: July 19, 2019

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

Oh, what a difference five-plus months and 120 degrees can make.

At the beginning of this year, I published this post on January 30 as a way to chronicle the outbreak of dangerous cold that settled in Chicago and much of the central part of the nation.

The view from our back porch looks somewhat inviting, despite the sweltering weather.

Today, we’re at the other end of the weather spectrum: An excessive heat warning that started today and lasts until Saturday night, when storms will smash the oppressive temperatures and humidity.

As I write this, it’s 94 degrees outside and heat index is in the low triple digits. I went for a short walk and, rest assured, man, it’s hot out there.

Government officials and the media repeatedly issued warnings about the dangers of the sweltering weather. There are still memories of the three-day heat wave of July 1995, when some 700 — mostly elderly in some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods — perished; they died because there was no one there to help, to look in on fellow human beings in need.

Lacking central air conditioning, we get by with window units, ceiling fans and lots of cold liquids.

Now to the question: What does “heat” sound like?

Puttering in our yard, shown in the image above, I heard birds, a few footsteps, loud autos at times, the wind rustling in the trees and not much else.  I think most of our neighbors are wisely limiting outdoor activity this afternoon. To me, heat “sounds” like tranquility, as long as you can find shade and perhaps a little breeze.

Like my January post during the polar vortex, weather — certainly extreme weather — does have a profound impact on people. I’m encouraged to learn that cooling centers — county and public buildings — will remain open through Saturday night.

Of course, we may not move as fast or exert ourselves on hot days, but we continue on with life, knowing relief will come soon.

 

And They’re Off! Strategies for Electric Scooters in Chicago

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

A five-month pilot program for an innovative transit mode debuted in Chicago June 15, with all the fanfare expected.  As a transportation guy of some renown (well, at least in my own mind) I believe this new option has the potential to truly be a game-changer and improve the way people get from here to there.

Yes, but for the program to work, the City must form a sound strategy to ensure this novel way of getting around is safe and equitable, and compliments the current transportation network.

A line of scooters parked on the plaza at the Logan Square CTA Blue Line station.

The subject at hand: The dockless electric scooter program, which allows riders the option to download an app and, well, scoot away for a ride, then park the device in a “proper” location that does not impede pedestrian traffic, provide a hazard to those in wheelchairs or block entry to homes and businesses.

This recent report from the online source Curbed Chicago states that some 60,000 electric scooter rides were taken during the first week. Obviously, there was a demand and interest.

Like with most things new, there have been challenges.  I’ve witnessed the following:

  • While strolling on Milwaukee Avenue last week, I observed a young woman scooter rider who apparently hit a pothole, causing her to fall.  She rose with a bloody nose, but was able to continue her ride.
  • On a quiet Sunday afternoon, I observed a quartet of spirited scooter riders engaged in a circular “catch me if you can” game at the intersection across from our home. They later sped away, traveling against traffic on a one-way street.
  • And, throughout my neighborhood, I’ve seen scooters parked inappropriately on sidewalks and lawns or left flat on the pavement. Reports have shown scooters propelled into trees or flung into park lagoons.

Other news sources report riders have sustained injuries that require medical attention.  Given the warm-weather weeks ahead, one can anticipate more scooter-related injuries, hopefully none serious.

In a laudable attempt to help my home city, I offer the following scooter-centered thoughts for the Mayor’s office to consider. These strategies, goals and objectives have roots in effective public relations practices.

Goals:

  • Make scooters a safe, accepted and affordable mode of transportation in Chicago.
  • Expand the scooter network to neighborhoods that could benefit from shared micro-transit options.

Strategies:

  • Explore scooter programs in other cities — U.S. and overseas — to learn what worked, and what did not.
  • Collaborate with transit service bureaus, associations and community groups for ways to incorporate scooters into existing transit options.

Objectives:

  • Build awareness for the value scooters can make in enhancing mobility and alleviating “last mile” issues.
  • Cultivate acceptance of scooters as a legitimate transit mode; address need for safety and improper scooter use.
  • Work toward making the pilot program permanent in 2020.

There are many tactics that could advance this plan, but that’s for another post.  Back to the above, what would you add?

Two final thoughts:

  1. The dockless program already has resulted in some chaos. For the program to work, there need to be docking stations, like Divvy bikes.
  2. Electric scooters can be “fun” to ride, I suppose. But scooters must have a higher purpose — reduce cars on the road, help people reach destinations not available by public transit, provide mobility for those who need assistance.

Okay. Now it’s time for me to scoot. Figuratively, of course.

 

 

 

 

Suggestion for Mayor-Elect Lori Lightfoot: Add An APR (Or Perhaps Several) to Communications Team

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

The recent Chicago mayoral election, which led to the election of attorney and prescribed reformer Lori Lightfoot, would have been an ideal opportunity for this avowed real Chicago guy to share thoughts in this space.

But, for some reason — actually several reasons, including school, work and spring break — I did not publish any commentary.

Flash forward: A column published today by Chicago Tribune commentator Eric Zorn provided inspiration.

Sound communications counsel will prove invaluable to Mayor-Elect Lori Lightfoot in the years ahead. Photo courtesy of Chicago Tribune.

The focus of Zorn’s piece, “A lesson for Lori Lightfoot in the lingering Jussie Smollett controversy,” centers on communications, and the value and importance of sound media relations practices in helping Mayor-Elect Lightfoot advance her agenda and remain focused during what certainly will be challenging and contentious months ahead.

Navigating the next development in the Smollett controversy is the most top-of-mind issue, given the international coverage the story has received and the local divisiveness it has caused. But Chicago’s unrelenting street crime, reforming City Hall, pension shortfalls, neighborhood gentrification and an increasing lack of affordable housing also will require that Ms. Lightfoot and her team respond to many, many other media and public inquiries.

Open and honest communications from the Lightfoot administration will prove critical to the success during her years as mayor, and to Chicago, to its citizens, organizations and businesses, and to the way the city is perceived around the world.

Mr. Zorn advises the Mayor-Elect to “Hire the best communications team you can find.” He sagely goes on to state: “They will serve as strategists, not just mouthpieces, and will be unafraid to tell you when you deserve the brickbats.”

Should Ms. Lightfoot or her transition team read this post, I offer this suggestion on one criteria that should be considered in making selections on communicators: Consider professionals who hold the Accredited in Public Relations (APR) credential.

Okay. Some regular readers may have anticipated my recommendation.  And, yes, I am an Accredited professional, have served on the Universal Accreditation Board and currently am the Accreditation Chair for PRSA Chicago.

With the disclosure out of the way, let me share this one thought about the value of Accreditation. As Mr. Zorn noted, modern communicators must think strategically and not dispense knee-jerk counsel.

Those who earn the APR demonstrate through their personal study, during the Panel Presentation process and when taking the Comprehensive Examination that they can provide counsel based on strategies rather than “no comment.”

Should Mayor-Elect Lightfoot or her transition team need recommendations on who to consider, please respond to this post. And, for the record: This Accredited member would respectfully decline any position offered for the simple reason that I have no real experience in the political arena, aside from be a voter.

 

Homelessness: The True Image of a National Emergency

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

The concept of a “national emergency” dominated media coverage in recent weeks, driven by President Donald Trump’s decision earlier this month to demand federal funding to build the wall on the nation’s southern border.

This controversial use of presidential power certainly raised questions, primarily:

  • Is there, indeed, a crisis along our border with Mexico in terms of illegal entry, drug smuggling and other criminal activity?
  • Does this president, or any president, have the constitutional authority to declare a national emergency and demand federal funds without Congressional approval?

Perhaps there have been true national emergencies taking place here in the United States for a prolonged time in our history; but, they just don’t make headlines.

Note the image within this post. This lady shared a CTA Blue Line car with me, other Chicagoans and visitors one morning this week.  Most passengers on this train probably were headed to work, school, an appointment or home.

From what’s depicted here, this lady was probably going to none of the above.

Look closely, she’s there, behind the glass partition, wearing a brown jacket and maneuvering a cart loaded with sacks containing what’s likely her worldly possessions.

As she was about to exit at the Jackson station platform, I handed her some cash, about what I would spend on two beers these days, minus tip.

She paused, smiled, said thank you and put the bill in her pocket. I sensed dignity in this lady by the way she looked at me, responded to my offer and effectively moved her cart and belongings off the el car and onto the platform.

I hope the President or someone within his administration recognizes that homelessness is a true national emergency, and it’s taking place in many, many other cities and towns across the nation. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, more than 550,000 in this nation are homeless.  Here in Illinois, more than 10,000 experience homelessness.

After my encounter with the lady, I continued on with my work day, then I headed home.

My regret is that I all I did was give this lady some money. My hope is that she finds a true home someday soon.