Small business is the life blood of our economy. In many instances, the lack of funding and brick and mortar stores can be prohibitive. As the city of Chicago continues to turn the corner when it comes to enriching and empowering the Black community, Bernard Llyod president of Urban Juncture, Inc., helped to create Boxville on the South Side of Chicago. An idea that was sparked from bike repairs has grown into something that is changing the idea of what community and small business is. We spoke to Llyod recently about Boxville and its history.
What is Boxville?
Boxville is the coming together of community and commerce and our enterprise and neighborhood residents. We’re trying to bring folks together who want to see positive commerce in the community where folks who wanted to develop that commerce in ways that are accessible. So we are accessible because as you can see, we are right here on the sidewalk, on the Green Line, on 51th Street. So we are accessible physically. We are accessible financially because you can rent a table here for a very modest price. We have the gift shop; we have different items.
Why is financial accessibility important?
The financial accessibility is critical. It’s critical in our community because we don’t have the capital or the access to the capital that community’s generally have. So we’re working in these shipping containers because they are much more capital efficient. We can get a shipping container for a reasonable amount, we can build it out and we can create small stores within and around the shipping containers to allow this enterprise to flourish.
How long have you been doing this now?
Well, we’ve been in a shipping container, business, so to speak, since 2014. In 2014, we opened the bike box and the box was our answer to the recognition that there was a big bicycling opportunity and a big bicycle repair opportunity, but we had this big constraint that we had very little capital and so we decided to buy a shipping container and our shipping container as a bike shop and so that shipping container and it’s still here. That shipping container was the first container on this property.
It was the only container on this property and in six months we went from that concept to that enterprise and then we kept working on it and a year or two after that, when you step back and say, hey, we have a very interesting enterprise here, people are coming to the bike box to get their bikes repaired or just hang out, have a positive conversation . So based on that experience we said, hey, we should do more of this. Bike box is a great start, but let’s get other enterprises together. Let’s create a marketplace of enterprises that can flourish together at 51st street and the Green Line.
How often does this happen? Does Boxville happen throughout the month?
Currently Boxville is an operation Wednesdays, 4 to 7:00 PM and Sundays 12 to 4:00 PM. We will go at least through September and we may throw us some additional days and as we to go into the season, but for now, Wednesdays and Sundays.
Are there any plans of expanding this throughout the city?
There are plans. We are going to expand onto a site to begin with. In fact, we’re creating what we’re calling the neighborhood square. In a month from now, you will see more boxes on the side and we will create several boxes that will be completely neighborhood focused, but won’t have any commercial aspect to them. So Boxville right now is very neighborhood focused, but it’s its commerce, but there are lots of activities that are based in these neighborhoods, in our neighborhoods that don’t involve commerce and the neighborhood square will be the host for many such activities.