Jackie Jackson: Kilwins

Jackie Jackson: Kilwins

“I had just lost my mother and I went on a vacation and I walked into one of these Kilwins. I had never heard of Kilwins, but the smell of it and the whole thing, just the spirit of my mother came over me. We make everything right in the window.

“My daughter and I are business partners. My daughter had been working for the store since she was 14 years old, so when she graduated from college, she was granted a partnership. We’ve been in business for 12 years and we’ve been at 310 S. Michigan Ave. for three years now. We have one in Hyde Park and we are in the process of opening one at Navy Pier. Because of the pandemic, we have decided to postpone that until next year.

“When Feb. 29 came, we were 50% up and we were able to write that March check. That meant we were out of the woods. Two weeks after that, we had to close our doors because of the pandemic.

“We save all our money from the summer. We do Lollapalooza and all kinds of festivals. We get a lot of foot traffic.

“As of today, we’re 73% down for the entire year. Because there are no festivals, by the end of the year it’s probably going to be zero. That’s a big concern because we’ve never missed paying our rent.

“After we made everything all over again, we were looted. Then that caused us to close up for about 30 more days. When they broke in here, the entire store became contaminated; we couldn’t use anything.

“When we got here, there were six police officers inside the store, but they had to leave, so it was just my daughter and I. The police said to keep the lights off and we stood by the window and watched carloads of people come and take stuff from CVS.

“Someone threw a watermelon on the front glass and it didn’t break. I dropped a pen on the floor and I looked up and saw all my glass shatter.

“When they saw a big open window, then they came to come in. We gave out chocolates. This was a bathroom stop.

“I just said, ‘Please you can take whatever you want. Just don’t smash anything.’ They took the iPad, the laptop; they even took stuff that doesn’t make sense. I just said, ‘Please don’t take the phone. This is all we have.’ The guy was like, ‘OK. I’m going to need you to make a phone call for me.’ We were scared to give him the phone, but he was nice, so he just called someone to tell him where he was located so they could come around with the car and he could take all of his loaded stuff. It was a free-for-all so it was very scary.

“A couple of blocks away there was another African American [business] owner outside sweeping some glass and he was knocked unconscious. Never again would I try to protect anything; it’s just not worth my life.

“We tried to work out something with the landlord, so for July and August we paid the taxes but we recently got a letter from the landlord saying he’s going to send us a default notice because the rent is at about $70,000. I was like, ‘Where are we going to get the money from?’

“I guess Mayor Lightfoot has a program and that’s going to be a $4,000 grant. I did get a letter stating we would get that. What was really disappointing was that Economic Injury Disaster Loan for $10,000 that everybody received. I just learned yesterday we wouldn’t be getting that grant because they ran out of money.

“The city is losing a lot of money in revenue and taxes so there is only so much they can do. The same thing with the landlords. I do understand they have responsibilities. All this just needs to be deferred. I’m a landlord. I do have a building that I mortgaged to get this store. Hardly any of my tenants have been paying rent, but I can’t evict them. I do see that some of them aren’t working so I do have compassion.

“We gave out 2,020 free ice cream cones for all the graduates to bring community and awareness to the store, hoping that would generate buzz. That had started, but since that last [looting on Aug. 10], it’s back to the way it was before.

“We’re very hurt, we’re disappointed and we’re frustrated with what has happened with the city. We don’t want to pack up and leave. We have too much invested. We were safe this past weekend, but it still effects us because nobody wants to come down.

“There’s insurance, phone bills, bills you wouldn’t even think about. Minimum wage is $13.50 and we don’t pay our average employee minimum wage; we have to give them a little bit more. It’s really expensive to run this place. You take that $14,000 for rent, all the utilities, the franchise fee and a marketing fee, there’s no money.

“We lost a majority of our employees. We lost them because the unemployment benefits were so beautiful. An extra $600 a week. We have to pay into that.

“Now with wearing the mask and the social distancing, you have a lot of customers coming in who don’t want to wear a mask. They’re very hostile. Some of the employees are intimidated and are quitting because they don’t know what to do and the customers are being rude to them. Then I have customers sending in complaints saying they don’t like the service they got from my employees because they were asked to put on a mask.

“I do believe one day business will come back. The pandemic will be over and the city of Chicago will get in control of the problems and will come up with solutions, but I do need a partnership with the landlord.

“I’m willing to wait it out and I do have confidence in the city of Chicago. I love it, it’s beautiful; I was born and raised here. This city is too fabulous to let it just get taken away. We have to stand strong and have to come here as a community and take it back. We have to take it back.”

Jackie Jackson
Co-franchise owner, Kilwins
Chicago, Illinois

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