Dozens of Little Village residents protested a neighborhood developer Wednesday night.
The youth-led protest featured speakers who said this fight is one that will either stop gentrification in Little Village — or will open up the floodgates to displacement in the Mexican neighborhood.
Protesters gathered outside the Little Village Plaza Wednesday to protest its new owner, developer John Novak. In February, Novak, president of Novak Construction, bought the plaza located at 3045-3117 W. 26th St. for $17 million. Novak told the Chicago Sun-Times he wants to bring national retailers there. Protesters said Novak wants to shut down the plaza’s Discount Mall, displacing about 150 small vendors renting space.
With dozens of vendors selling a range of Mexican products, the mall resembles an indoor Mexican mercado and draws Latinos from all over the Midwest. They come from the suburbs to buy supplies for baptisms and quinceañeras, among other things.
Irais Miranda has been selling musical instruments at the mall for 14 years. He said Novak has refused to meet with the vendors.
“He just told us that he will honor our lease, but he hasn’t said anything else,” Miranda said in Spanish. “There are rumors the new owner wants to open big chain stores like Target. We just want to be part of the planning. We want to be included in that plan.”
Miranda said there are vendors who’ve had their businesses inside the mall for over 30 years. He said the mall brings a lot of customers from around the region, something a Target wouldn’t do.
Novak Construction released a statement Thursday afternoon trying to clear up the rumors.
“Although rumors and misinformation have surrounded the plaza for months, the owners wish to convey that there will be no redevelopment plans this year as they seek to understand the market and the neighborhood better,” the company said in a written statement.
Koco Malagon sells traditional Mexican dresses at the mall. She said the vendors have not been included in any conversations about the mall’s future. She worries that Novak’s plans for the plaza will serve as a gateway for gentrification into Little Village coming from neighboring Pilsen.
“On a day like today our ancestors started a movement,” Malagon told the crowd referencing the Mexican Independence Day. “The Discount Mall was sold. But it was sold behind closed doors.”
Malagon said Ald. George Cardenas, 12th Ward, has not helped them.
“What we need is Cardenas’ support,” she said in Spanish. “And you know what? That’s not going to happen until we pressure him. He needs to tell us, are you with us or against us?”
Protesters accused Cardenas of supporting the developer because days after Novak finalized the deal, Novak Construction donated $1,500 to the 12th Ward Democrats, a political committee led by Cardenas, the Sun-Times reported.
Cardenas denies the accusation. The alderman said he’s talked to the vendors and given them advice.
“I’m in their corner,” he said.
Cardenas said the developer has not told the vendors they will be displaced. And Cardena said he’s not concerned about gentrification in Little Village.
“We should welcome other nationalities [that] want to be near us,” he said.
María Inés Zamudio is a reporter for WBEZ’s Race, Class and Communities desk. Follow her @mizamudio.