March 19, 2020

For a decade, IJ has led the charge in the fight to legitimize mobile businesses, such as food trucks and pushcart vendors. We can now add Chicago’s mobile boutique owners to the list of entrepreneurs newly free to work. After a five-year advocacy campaign, mobile boutiques can finally obtain a business license to operate in Chicago.

The mobile boutique industry is exploding all over the country, with entrepreneurs like Juana Ryan—whose StellaLily truck sells artwork by local artists and photographers—transforming trucks into retail shops on wheels. Unfortunately, despite industry growth, local governments regularly fail to recognize mobile boutiques as legitimate businesses. This failure is a major source of frustration shared by entrepreneurs in many cities, and Chicago is no different. 

In 2015, several mobile boutique operators went to City Hall to obtain a business license and were shocked to find out that a license did not exist for their business type—even though such a license is required to do business in the city. The IJ Clinic on Entrepreneurship teamed up with the mobile boutiques to help them obtain an Emerging Business Permit, a temporary permit intended as a pilot for innovative businesses that do not fall under Chicago’s existing license structure. However, the city delayed its decision on whether the businesses could obtain a regular license and instead kept extending the permit, leaving mobile boutiques in regulatory limbo and operating under impractical rules and uncertainty about whether their businesses could ever be permanent. 

The IJ Clinic worked closely with the mobile boutiques, strategic allies, aldermen, and city officials to pass an ordinance establishing a permanent license with minimal and sensible—not burdensome and irrational—regulations. The first of these new licenses were issued in January 2020 to IJ Clinic partners Juana Ryan and mother-and-daughter duo Jera and Joslyn Slaughter. They are excited and relieved to finally breeze through the Windy City’s neighborhoods as legal businesses no longer in danger of being shut down.

At IJ, we know that advocacy does not only take place in the courtroom or at the statehouse. We are proud of our track record of working directly with entrepreneurs and empowering them to defend economic liberty in their own cities and towns.

Selecca Bulgar-Medina is a policy fellow at the IJ Clinic on Entrepreneurship.

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