Chicago Entrepreneurs Think Outside the Box to Grow South Side Businesses

Catherine Copeland Gryczan
Catherine Copeland Gryczan  ·  September 25, 2023

At 51st Street next to the elevated Green Line in Chicago’s historic Bronzeville neighborhood sits Boxville, a bustling shipping container marketplace that has transformed a once-vacant lot. But this innovative small-business center clashes with Chicago’s antiquated and oppressive licensing regulations.

Boxville grew out of a desire to address a community need for places to eat, shop, and gather. The effort started in 2014 with the Bronzeville Bike Box. Operating from a modified shipping container, it grew to become the neighborhood’s go-to bike repair shop. Now Boxville boasts 17 modified shipping containers with the capacity to host up to 20 startup enterprises operating year-round.

Founder Bernard Loyd identified the need for an incubator like Boxville from conversations with local businesses and aspiring entrepreneurs, many of whom did not have the experience or resources to succeed in a traditional storefront with high overhead. For a modest monthly membership fee, Boxville provides budding businesses with a place to start and offers coaching on business plans, marketing, pricing, and more. The goal is for businesses to outgrow the box format and transition to larger retail and restaurant spaces once they are better prepared to launch. And it’s a successful model: As businesses graduate to continue their journey in traditional storefronts, new entrepreneurs can come to Boxville for the support and mentorship they need to launch their own businesses.

While Boxville has gained traction in Chicago with unique foods, products, and services, it struggles to find its place in the city’s outdated business licensing scheme. The rules were constructed for traditional brick-and-mortar spaces, not Boxville’s innovative and affordable model that provides a much-needed springboard for entrepreneurs.

So Bernard partnered with the IJ Clinic on Entrepreneurship to navigate—and hopefully change—the city’s outdated regulations. Together, we are engaging the city in the hope of crafting a solution that squarely fits how Boxville operates. We also work with Boxville so that it can guide individual businesses to secure licensing for the innovative goods and services they provide.

By lifting up Bernard and his novel Boxville marketplace, the IJ Clinic supports small-business owners as they work to provide job opportunities to residents, quality goods and services to patrons, and unique events and attractions to visitors—all while pursuing their economic dreams.

Catherine Gryczan is assistant director of IJ‘s Clinic on Entrepreneurship.

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