Aldermen will vote Thursday on a plan to add new stores and restaurants to Chicago Midway International Airport.
The Goose Island Beer Company, Kiehl’s and Victoria’s Secret could all be coming to the Southwest Side airport. But iconic music store George’s Music Room is not on the list of proposed businesses, and a handful of aldermen are rushing to save it.
George’s Music Room is in a prime spot at the top of Midway’s B Terminal, right next to Potbelly’s.
According to owner George Daniels, most travelers come in desperate to replace forgotten headphones or a phone charger. But then their ears perk up, they look around and realize this is not your typical airport shop.
Recently, Daniels featured a best of “Soul Train” box set to highlight Black History Month. Daniels hand-picked CDs are displayed beneath a row of photographs of Daniels posing with famous musicians.
There’s Daniels and Kanye West. Daniels with The Notorious B.I.G. Daniels with Beyonce Knowles. And Daniels with Lil’ Kim at his birthday party three years ago.
“Everybody, kinda — they recognize me, they know who I am,” Daniels said.
And that’s the thing about Daniels: Everybody knows him. He can’t walk around the airport without hearing from flight attendants, TSA agents or custodians.
Daniels opened the original George’s Music Room on the West Side in 1969, but now it’s unclear how much longer he will be in business in Chicago.
Over the last few years, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has been working on a plan to upgrade Midway. Through negotiations and a bidding process, Emanuel chose Midway Partnership, LLC to take over the concessions deals at Midway for the next 15 years. When the final plan was published in the Chicago Sun-Times last month, Daniels was stunned to find his music room wasn’t a part of it.
“Have you ever felt blood pressure go up?” he said. “Mine went up. And it was such an uncomfortable feeling.”
Daniels has been at Midway for 16 years, and he said it’s all thanks to former Mayor Richard M. Daley. Daniels said Daley was planning a “stop the violence” march down Roosevelt Road in 1999 and needed a place to hold his press conference. The local alderman thought Daniel’s record store would be the perfect spot.
Daniels said Daley asked for a tour of the record store. Two months later, Daniels found himself sitting across from Daley on the fifth floor of City Hall.
“(Daley) said, ‘Look, I’ll tell you what I want.’ He says, ‘There are no record stores at our airports’ … “You are a reflection of a diversity of our businesses in Chicago, and I’d like you to be in Midway.’ ”
Daniels has been there ever since.
“I can’t tell you how many hundreds of people asked me, ‘George I want you to hook me up, how can we get in the airport?’ Well, obviously it’s the political arena that’s involved, and it’s kind of who you know,” he said.
But over the years, that political arena has changed and Daniel’s clout might not have the same weight in City Hall. Daniels has been calling around to his friends in the City Council, hoping they could help.
“You know, everyone that you talk to about George has a soft spot for him,” said Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th Ward).
Sawyer has known Daniels for decades. He said it wasn’t hard to find a handful of other aldermen who want to keep George’s Music Room at Midway. But Sawyer said Daniels didn’t file the right paperwork to be part of the new plan.
“George just made that assumption that he was going to be taken care of, and it doesn’t quite work that way any longer,” Sawyer said.
The Department of Aviation told WBEZ that George’s Music Room was not part of any of the bid proposals. Daniels said he made an effort to stay at Midway, and Sawyer believes Daniels has always made that clear. Sawyer said he and other aldermen will fight for George’s Music Room however they can.
“The best possible outcome, if we vote to not to extend the concession without George being there, but I don’t know if we have those types of votes yet,” Sawyer said.
Sawyer added that as much as everyone loves Daniels and his store, he wonders whether one person should get in the way of modernizing an aging airport.
In the meantime, Daniels said he’s been spreading the word about his situation. And he said he hopes some celebrities will call City Hall on his behalf.