One Question, One Image March 18, 2018

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

This headline from last week certainly jumped off the page, so to say, for me and perhaps a million or so other Chicagoans who care about the future of the city:

Amazon HQ2 search team visiting Chicago March 21-22

As noted in the accompanying article published by Crain’s Chicago Business, Chicago city officials are keeping the visit somewhat hush-hush, as requested by the folks from Amazon, who are considering my fair city along with 19 others for its “second headquarters.”

The under-construction Academic and Residential complex on the UIC campus.

As noted in this post from November of last year, I’m a solid supporter of Chicago gaining this once-in-a-generation corporate prize. I even liked the Chicago is all in Facebook page dedicated to helping communicate civic boosterism towards the HQ2 competition. (And, for the record, I shared the above post from last year, but it has yet to be included.)

Given the projected number of permanent jobs (50,000), high salaries for new Amazon employees (average of $100,000), and residual economic benefits (who knows for sure, but it will be a lot), there’s no question winning the Amazon prize would be tremendous for Chicago. (Although many claim the purported $2.25 billion incentive package is way too steep.)

So on to today’s question. The image above reveals progress made on the new Academic and Residential Complex at the University of Illinois at Chicago.  (Full disclosure: I work at UIC.)

This $100 million development, which I observe daily when exiting the CTA Blue Line UIC/Halsted station, is rising at remarkable speed. It’s a tangible example what Chicago does very well: Build stuff.

Since its inception and evolution in the late 19th Century into a truly world-class city, Chicago has built more than just iconic structures. Chicago has built industries — food processing and manufacturing, transportation, supply chain logistics and others — that rival those any place on earth.

That’s why I want to ask:

Does Chicago really need to win the Amazon HQ2 to maintain its position in the world today?

Regardless of the low profile hoped for during the meetings between the city and Amazon this week, I’m confident there will be many, many projections on where the bid stands.

 

 

Advertisements

Bravco Conjures Memories of the Old Rush Street

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

Cities evolve and grow or fade into obscurity. But oftentimes, little parts of the urban fabric refuse to change, clinging to what made them special or memorable in the first place.

The Rush Street district on the Near North Side of Chicago has evolved and grown dramatically since I first was exposed to the area as a high school kid in the early 1970s.

The name, the two aisles, the fireplace, the ambiance, the permanence. Much the same as when I first arrived at Bravo as a high school stock boy in 1971.

The once bohemian quarter ran roughly from Chicago Avenue on the south to Division Street on the north and was home to cabarets and night clubs in the 1940s through the 1970s — legendary places like Mr. Kelly’s, Faces and Rush Up. In the decade or so that followed, Rush Street evolved to become Chicago’s disco scene — mirrored balls and lots of polyester included.

But there was more of a neighborhood back then. Along with the nightlife and denizens of party goers, Rush Street also housed small shops and restaurants, most decidedly Chicago in nature, and even modest apartments above the retailers.

Today, it’s a much different scene; the narrow streets are lined with soaring modern high-rise apartments and internationally-known designer stores, with just a few longstanding clubs and bars still in business.

And then, there’s the Bravco Beauty Centre at 43 E. Oak St.

The sweetest pension one could imagine.

I first walked into the unassuming two-aisle store one day in 1971, joining my neighborhood buddy, Steve, as a stock boy. It was my first real job, one I held after school and during the summer months for two years. Back then, the store was run by an engaging retailer named Milton Brav and his partner Jack Finley.

Working at Bravco put money in my pocket, and I got to experience the waning years of a now-gone pocket of Chicago history and culture.

Last week, while attending an awards reception at the Drake Hotel, another iconic presence on the North Side, I strolled into Bravco and met current owner Howard Gordon, who purchased the shop in 1980. Outwardly, not much has changed in the two-aisle store, shelves full of health and beauty aids.

“I used to work here!” I told Mr. Gordon, who commanded the cash register. “But that was in the early 1970s, when Mr. Brav owned the store.”

We engaged in a spirited conversation, waxing nostalgically about long-gone establishments like BurgerVille, the Acorn on Oak and even the scary-from-the-outside strip clubs on State Street; and I noted how I would try to flirt (mostly unsuccessfully) with the often stunning women customers seeking exotic hair and beauty products.

“I need to buy something,” I told Mr. Gordon, placing a package of Juicy Fruit gum on the counter. “This is on the house,” Mr. Gordon said. “Think of this as your pension.”

Now, one might wonder: How does this tiny specialty establishment remain in business in an upscale location during this era of online retail options and dominant national chains?

Through a quick Google search, I found a Crain’s Chicago Business article on Bravco from 2000 and learned the store’s continued success is the result of Mr. Gordon’s business savvy and selection of desirable beauty products. And, I’d like to think, Mr. Gordon’s personality and character. Why else would customers still patronize Bravco?

As I left the shop that Friday evening, I was proceeded by an elderly couple, both toting shopping bags branded by Treasure Island. I trust they had lived in the neighborhood for decades and been around when Rush Street was a thriving urban strip, less sanitized, more truly Chicago.

Like Bravco, the man and woman are still grasping to the remnants of what once was a truly singular part of the city.  I made my way east on Oak Street, quite happy at what I had discovered.

 

 

 

The Outlook of Hyperlocal News After the Demise of DNA Info

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

The digital dust, so to say, has settled on the abrupt closing earlier this month of a no-cost online news source that provided subscribers with the little stories often not covered by the more established print and broadcast outlets, as well as many of the big stories.

The question now is: “What, if any, media source will fill the void created?”

Of course, I’m referring to DNA Info and Gothamist, the so-called hyperlocal news organizations covering Chicago and New York.

As a subscriber the Chicago edition, I often enjoyed reading the content researched and written by the current breed of  journalists.  Although, at times I passed over reading stories about the new watering hole in Logan Square featuring an acclaimed mixologist or the hip deli offering house made pickles. Also, the comments section that accompanied reports often was populated by real trolls who thrived on posting unsavory thoughts that prompted distasteful back-and-forth comments rather than adding to a rational discourse.

But, as a former newsman who began his career when Chicago still had three daily papers, I was saddened that dozens of staff reporters and freelance contributors are out of work.

Many have commented on the shutdown of the news site, including former columnist Mark Konkol, who wrote a compelling opinion piece about the big impact little stories can have in a city of neighborhoods like Chicago.

Clearly the business model behind the organizations — totally supported by advertising — didn’t work in this era of seemingly unlimited free online content, images and video. (After all, there’s no charge to read The PRDude, but I would accept a beer as an honorarium should you find value or enjoyment in reading this blog.)

But from another perspective, DNA Info really was not delivering a novel product. Community newspapers, which still exist in print and online formats, cover the small stories — the community meetings, the business openings, the stories of human interest.

So where will former DNA Info readers go for hyperlocal news?

Honestly, I’m not sure. But one option is to seek out relevant and accurate information disseminated through online sites maintained by established neighborhood associations or organizations, elected officials and local chambers of commerce.

Another is to reach out to neighbors and share news. The concept actually is ancient and known as vox populi, or voice of the people.

In theory, it means the people always are correct. But then again, theories need to be proven.

 

My Turn: Thoughts About Amazon and Chicago

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

For the past several weeks, one story has dominated business news here: Chicago’s efforts to lure online retail behemoth Amazon to build its “second headquarters” on a site in the city.

Led by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Governor Bruce Rauner and local business and civic leaders, Chicago has offered Amazon 10 potential sites — eight in the city and two in the suburbs — to consider for the proposed complex. Marketing messages have highlighted the city’s strong points, like central location with two international airports, world-class cultural and educational institutions, strong (well most of the time) infrastructure, vibrant neighborhoods (well, many but certainly not all), dynamic business community and many others.

Thankfully, I have not read any nonsense about the attraction of real deep dish pizza or Chicago style (hold the ketchup) hot dogs.

Although, I anticipate a continued barrage of business stories about the Amazon bid well into 2018, when Chicago will learn where it ranks among the 238 North American cities bidding for HQ2 and its proposed 50,000 employees.

A few weeks ago, the former CEO of the city’s chamber of commerce published a rather compelling “open letter” to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, offering several reasons why Chicago should land this so-called “once-in-a-generation” corporate and economic plum.

And, a few days ago, the Chicago Tribune published a news story announcing proposed plans by Chicago real estate concern Sterling Bay to offer Amazon naming for a stadium within the newly-designated Lincoln Works property on the North Side. Great idea, but I’m not sure what team would play games at the stadium since the city’s professional franchises already have homes.

So, now it’s this life-long Chicago resident’s opportunity to share some thoughts behind making Chicago Amazon’s HQ2.

Retail Legacy. Without question, Chicago can boast a retail history unparalleled in the nation. The mail-order industry, led by Sears & Roebuck and Montgomery Ward, was founded here and thrived for a century.  On a related note, the meatpacking industry was born and thrived here for decades. Chicago knows how to host groundbreaking commerce and industry.

Non-Profit Powerhouse. This fact often is lost when listing metropolitan Chicago’s economic and civic strengths: The size and scope of its non-profit and association organizations, some of the largest in the nation. As noted from this page on the Chicago Association Forum’s website, the region’s associations — some 1,600 total — contribute billions to the economy. Associations also function as advocates for culture and commerce, generate research and stimulate dialogue. This is a benefit other cities simply can’t match.

It’s Been Done Here Before. I won’t tread on that quote about dispensing with minuscule ideas. Yet its message rings true here in Chicago, which gave the world the first true skyscraper, which hosted an international exhibition two decades after a devastating fire, which nurtured and lost and rebuilt great industries, which emerged from many catastrophes still strong and ready to take on new challenges.

Amazon and other online retailers may be (and deservedly so) blamed for putting bricks and mortar retailers out of business. Montgomery Ward no longer exists, and Sears is facing challenges to remain profitable.

Should Mr. Bezos decide on Chicago as the next step for the online empire he created, I maintain the city would rise up to the challenge.  And, by the way, along with pizza and hot dogs, we have are home to Italian beef.

 

 

 

One Image, One Question: September 24, 2017

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

As this post is about to be published, the temperature outside here in Chicago this Sunday in September, the first official weekend of autumn, is 88 degrees.

Yes, 88 degrees this late in the season.

Do you have a favorite spot to observe the changes around you?

Hey, that’s a bit less July-like than the record breaking mid-90 degree temperatures recorded here and around the Midwest the past few days.

But enough weather talk.

The image above was taken on our front porch, where Susan and I sit often during the warm months to read, drink coffee (and sometimes wine or beer) and watch activity in the neighborhood.

By this time of year, opportunities to enjoy the outside on the porch dwindle.  But, not today.

From this perch, we’ve observed many somewhat subtle but significant changes to Avondale. Most specifically — the people.

Avondale’s proximity to downtown Chicago and public transportation, great housing stock and relative affordability has attracted families and a younger demographic.

Okay, the neighborhood is becoming gentrified.

We observe this in three quantifiable ways:

  • Rising prices for housing, meaning less affordability for many, including long-standing residents.
  • A reduction in gang-related activity, which was prevalent when we moved to Avondale 17 years ago.
  • An increase in people walking dogs! (I’m not kidding; being on a corner, we are at the dog walking crossroads.)

So on today’s question:

Where and how do you observe changes within your community?

Time to get back outside to continue this research. Real autumn weather will be here. Someday.

 

 

The Blues Are All Around Us, And Now Chicago Has a Museum

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

Many people think the focus of blues music is all about, well, being blue. Being down. Being out.

And, yes, many blues songs — from those belted out in the juke joints in the South to the nightclubs in the North — deal with down-and-out and the downtrodden subjects, often over a 12-bar progression.

But from another perspective, the blues also can take a different direction, like finding better times just down the road, or perhaps at the next crossroad.

The soon-to-be built Chicago Blues Experience will be housed right in downtown Chicago, the mecca of big city blues. Image courtesy of the Chicago Tribune.

In Chicago, undisputed as the place where the Delta blues evolved into a dynamic big city musical and cultural force, there was an announcement this week about something better happening just down the road of time.

On Monday, the world learned of plans to build The Chicago Blues Experience, a 50,000-square-foot museum scheduled to open its doors in a few years. This long-overdue addition to Chicago’s cultural scene will be housed in a former retail space in the bustling Loop and two blocks from Millennium Park, site for the 2017 Chicago Blues Festival, the world’s largest.

As a true Chicago guy and long-time lover of the blues, I’m thrilled by this news. Like many art forms, the blues needs to grow and evolve, especially since many of the legendary Chicago clubs like Theresa’s and the Checkerboard Lounge have long been shuttered. The new museum hopefully will energize the blues and inspire the next generation.

Along with the museum component, which I’m sure will house some awesome artifacts like cool old guitars, the Blues Experience will let visitors experience live blues music at a 150-seat performance space.

As a contribution to the cause, I’m making a “donation” of sorts to the Chicago Blues Experience and the blues community, something fresh and modern.

Below are lyrics to — you guessed it — to a contemporary blues song I wrote a few years ago while participating in a song writing class at the Old Town School of Folk Music.

Hopefully, the museum folks would like to hear me perform it. Hopefully at a time when things are better somewhere down the road.

The Blues Are All Around Me

Don’t have to look too far
Don’t have to look too far
That building use to be a store
Well it ain’t a store no more

The Blues are all around me
And they  follow me where ever I go

Don’t have to look too far
Don’t have to look too far
Electric cars don’t go too fast
I drive a car that uses gas

The Blues are all around me
And they follow me where ever I go

The TV show from Washington was all about the state of the union Thirty minutes later I was still in a state of confusion

Don’t have to look too far
Don’t have to look too far
The photograph that’s on the wall
Has a crack and is about to fall

The Blues are all around me
And they follow me where ever I go

Don’t have to look too far
Don’t have to look too far
Won’t go outside anymore
I’m afraid to even open up the door

‘Cause the blues are all around me
and they follow me where ever I go

Copyright 2017 Edward M. Bury

Honesty, Open Disclosure Needed to Heal Chicago, CPD

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

The report unveiled yesterday hit Chicago and the Chicago Police Department with the virtual force of a sledgehammer to the collective forehead of the city and those changed with maintaining law and order.

cod-logoFindings from two federal agencies revealed a police department “broken by systems that have allowed CPD officers who violate the law to escape accountability.” And, there’s more: Some police, according to the report, have violated civil rights and used excessive force against blacks and Latinos. Plus, the department’s training program doesn’t properly prepare officers for the job.

The title of the report, “Investigation of the Chicago Police Department,” is somewhat innocuous.  Yet, the conclusions made by the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Attorney’s Office are incredibly powerful and poignant, and will have lasting ramifications.

In short, the reputation of the Chicago Police Department — and in turn the reputation of the City of Chicago and Mayor Rahm Emanuel — has been battered at a time when the city is facing a crisis in neighborhoods plagued by a record homicide rate and incessant violence that appears to show no signs of abating.

What to do?

I’ll offer this general advice from a public relations perspective: Open, honest disclosure of how the Department will address the charges identified in the federal report is needed, and it’s needed right now.

Trying to put a “spin” (and I cringe when this term is used) or other efforts to diffuse this situation is foolhardy and counterproductive.

CPD is now facing a sustained crisis, meaning the ramifications from the federal report can last for years.  Without question, gaining the trust and respect of the people of Chicago will take a long time and will be full of challenges.

A clear road map of how the Department will move forward is the best first step it can take to rebuild that trust and respect.