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Signs of Progress in Chicago

Haji Healing Salon, a client of IJ’s Clinic on Entrepreneurship at the University of Chicago Law School, opened a new location in a brand-new building this spring. The double storefront has room for a retail shop selling plants, tonics, herbs, and skin care products, as well as space for healing services like community acupuncture, yoga classes, and meditation sessions. To launch the business in a new neighborhood during a pandemic, Haji had to let the community know what the business was all about. But Chicago law made that almost impossible. 

Haji could not install a sign that extended over the sidewalk so passersby would notice it unless the entire Chicago City Council of 50 aldermen voted to approve it. Haji could not put a chalkboard out on the sidewalk explaining what the business offered and showing it was open without risking a significant fine. Haji could not fill a window with pictures and graphics introducing the innovative business model. 

The IJ Clinic advocated to change these over-the-top restrictions on signage for years. Back in 2010, we published a chart showing just how convoluted the process was. We urged several mayoral administrations to push for change. We also organized community groups and small-business owners to support the reform effort. 

Finally, this summer, the City Council passed ordinances allowing most signs without City Council approval and making sidewalk signs legal. Some aldermen begrudged the loss of power over businesses, but the pressure from our grassroots organizing was impossible to deny. There are signs of a new day in Chicago, for Haji Healing Salon and other small businesses like it.

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