A transformed liquor store in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood is now a pop-up market offering fresh produce for an area often hit with food insecurity. It’s an effort by Austin teenagers, with funding from Chicago professional athletes, and the By the Hand Kids Club. But it was an idea driven by the teens.
The widespread protests after the police killing of George Floyd also produced looting in June, some of it in Austin. The By the Hand Kids Club organized listening and discussion sessions with teens, pro athletes, police officers, and city officials. The idea that they formulated was to transform a former liquor store at 423 N. Laramie Ave. into a pop-up produce market.
The athletes, led by former Chicago Bear linebacker Sam Acho, raised $500,000 for the project. The teens worked with the Hatchery Chicago, a nonprofit that helps local entrepreneurs develop food and beverage businesses, to develop the idea and learn entrepreneurship and business skills such as licensing and customer service.
The result is the pop-up market, Austin Harvest. It is now open from 3-6 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and will serve customers for 12 weeks, through early November. Austin Harvest sells fruits and vegetables, healthy snacks and drinks, and locally sourced flowers from Flowers for Dreams, which donates a quarter of its profits back to local charities. The market will be staffed and run by 10 high school students.
According to a story from Block Club Chicago, this was a teen-led effort from the beginning.
It was the teens themselves who envisioned the food mart and brought the idea to fruition. Young West Siders had their hands in every part of development, from designing the space to crafting a business plan to managing the pop-up. …
The teens turned their idea into a reality in just two months, but they see the project as ongoing. After their 12-week pop-up fresh market, their goal is to acquire a brick-and-mortar building and develop it into a full grocery store to satisfy their neighborhood’s dire need for food throughout the year.
Austin Harvest is “giving the teens meaningful jobs where they learn about marketing, customer service, and management,” the Block Club Chicago story said. Some teens also have received offers to work in internships.
That’s a pretty good outcome in a neighborhood that doesn’t often get much good publicity.