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In Chicago, A Less Greek Greektown, A More Chinese Chinatown

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Bilingual street signs are shown in Chicago's Chinatown in Chicago on Nov. 4, 2009.

Bilingual street signs are shown in Chicago’s Chinatown in Chicago on Nov. 4, 2009.

AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast

It appears that Chicago’s Greektown is getting less Greek. A recent article in Crain’s Chicago Business outlined the loss of some classic restaurants, while the neighborhood’s zoning and rent situations might mean the end for some of the small Greek-owned retailers.

On the other hand, Chinatown has largely avoided gentrification, and maintained its character as the hub of the Chinese-American community in the midwest. Morning Shift looks at the current and future state of these neighborhoods and what it might mean for the city’s other historic “ethnic” enclaves.

GUESTS:  Ari Bendersky, freelance reporter

Debbie Liu, Community Development Coordinator, Coalition for a Better Chinese American Community (CBCAC)

What’s Causing Greektown Restaurants to Close

Ari Bendersky: There’s a few reasons. One is the obvious: that rents have increased over the past few years with the expansion of the West Loop area, Fulton Market area along Randolph row. We all know what’s going on over there with skyrocketing rents and development, and it’s just naturally progressing a little further south. Another reason is that a lot of the owners that have had restaurants like the Parthenon, Pegasus, Roditys have owned them for many decades, and the owners are getting older, and they are retiring. And a lot of their children, the next generation, don’t want to work in the restaurant business….

Tony Sarabia: So with that in mind, will Greektown become just a tourist attraction?

Bendersky: Probably--similar to what happened in Andersonville with the Swedish community, possibly what’s happening now with Little Italy along Taylor Street. So [in Greektown] you’ve got the Hellenic Museum, which is actually a great place to go if you’re interested in Greek history, and Chicago Greek history for that matter. You’ve got the Athena Candle Company--

Sarabia: Yeah, that’s been around for decades.

Bendersky: Over a hundred years, I think, family-owned. And the restaurants that are still there.

In Chinatown, a Different Story

Debbie Liu: The Chinese population coming from mainland China, Hong Kong, and even Taiwan have grown beyond the actual business corridor of Chinatown. So the communities that they are living in are far beyond armor square. They’re living in Bridgeport, McKinley Park, Brighton Park to the west, and parts of the South Loop, parts of Douglas, and that whole geographic area--about 40,000 Chinese-Americans are living in that area.

Why Chicago’s Chinese-American Community Is Still Concentrated Near Chinatown

Liu: People who are new immigrants still need language assistance, and need those cultural classes to remind them that they are not just American, but they are also Chinese. Having the dual identity is very important for a lot of people who want future generations to learn Chinese, who want them to learn cultural dances. So they find a place here.

Sarabia: Sort of like an anchor.

Liu: Right. And Chinatown could be displaced, actually, and gentrified, as all these other communities. A couple reasons why it hasn’t really done that is because a lot of the older generation who have created these communities have stayed, and have continued doing that for their lifelong mission. And then there’s a lot of homeowners and business owners that are Chinese that tend to give it to their children. And so there is more of the future generation actually wanting to take on the businesses, and there’s actually a lot of anchors that help this community far beyond just the schools and--

Sarabia: And the library.

Liu: Right! And we spent ten years advocating for that. Kids used to sit on top of each other after school because there was no space. And we spent fifty years advocating for Ping Tom Park, because when the highrise came in, the only fieldhouse and park was demolished. And so there were at least two generations that didn’t have access to any parks. Chinatown is about struggle, but it’s also about getting things.

LEARN MORE:  Can Greektown Survive? (Crain’s Chicago Business 11/16/18)

Gentrification or Not, Chicago’s Chinatown Wants To Stay On The Map(Next City 5/1/17)

The Unlikely Boom Of Chicago’s Chinatown(Next City 2/22/16)

Greektown Strategic Plan (Greektown Chicago)

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