Little Village Discount Mall vendors demand time to relocate: ‘What’s at stake here is the livelihood of our community’

Dozens of vendors at the Discount Mall and Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) gather outside the Little Village mall before forming a car caravan and heading to Novak Construction, the mall’s new owner.

Michael Loria/Sun-Times

Dozens of Discount Mall vendors facing eviction rallied outside the Little Village fixture Thursday before heading to Novak Construction on the Northwest Side, where the group delivered a list of demands to John Novak, the mall’s owner.

Those demands included having Novak meet the group and find a solution for the vendors who don’t know where else to set up shop and need more time to move their merchandise.

Novak has left the fate of mall vendors in doubt since acquiring the site at 26th Street and Albany Avenue in 2019. Then, last month, roughly half of the vendors, around 100 businesses, were informed they would have to vacate by March 26.

Then, last week, another a letter from management arrived, saying that those not gone by 7:30 p.m. that Sunday could face fines.

“We’ve been told that some vendors plan to stay and protest,” the letter read. “If that happens and there are sanctions by the new owner, including fines, we will pass the costs onto you,” it said.

An in-person meeting at the company after the rally Thursday was unsuccessful, however. The deadline stands.

The tone of the letter surprised Sigcho-Lopez, who said the city and Novak were “reinventing the promises they made” at a meeting last month. At that time, he said, they had agreed no jobs would be lost and an alternative location found for the vendors.

He spoke at the rally on Thursday, where many held signs with the Mexican flag, a symbol for the mall, as well as signs with a crossed-out logo for Ross Stores, a big box store the group had heard would replace the vendors. 

Sigcho-Lopez said the store would replace about 100 businesses, employing hundreds, with just one employer, offering around a dozen jobs. 

“What’s at stake here is the livelihood of our community,” he said. “When we lose businesses like these, that’s what causes violence.”

At the Little Village Discount Mall today, where dozens of vendors gathered before heading to Novak Construction with a letter for John Novak, the mall’s owner, demanding he meet with them and find a solution other than evicting them in favor of big box retailers. @Suntimes

— Michael Loria (@mchael_mchael) March 16, 2023

A representative from the city’s Department of Planning and Development said the city was “urgently seeking short- and long-term solutions for impacted vendors, adding: “The City’s economic development team is continuing to explore viable options to provide vendors with an alternative location and reduce area retail vacancies.”

The mall opened in 1991 and a few longtime vendors spoke at the rally. 

Iraís Miranda cried as he talked about running a music shop at the mall for about 15 years. His son now also works there.

“This is the nucleus of commercial activity on 26th Street for almost 30 years,” he said. “We’re the principal employers around here.”

The group formed a car caravan to the offices of Novak Construction on the 3500 block of North Drake Street. They arrived in dozens, honking their horns. They lined up, facing the entrance, and hooked up a speaker to amplify their demand that Novak come out to meet with them. 

“The mall united will never be defeated,” they chanted. 

A Novak representative let a few vendors inside, but only to repeat the ultimatum to a smaller group that included Kocoy Malagón, longtime owner of a dress shop at the mall.

She said they asked for an extension until fall for all the businesses that have a good history of keeping up with the rent.

“They made it clear that there wasn’t going to be an extension,” Malagón said.

Michael Loria is a staff reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times via Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster the paper’s coverage of communities on the South Side and West Side.

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