Buddies Calvin Brown and Ted Tines share a joke at Tines' North Lawndale fruit and produce cart. Tines is one of the venders for Neighbor Carts, a program that helps individuals start their own business. (Brooke Workneh/MEDILL)

NORTH LAWNDALE – A steady stream of customers routinely stops by Ted Tines’ fruit stand at the corner of Ogden and Hamlin avenues.

It’s a good spot for Tines, just off the Central Park el stop in North Lawndale. After a 30-year struggle with heroin, Tines is running his own fresh food cart — the Chicago native has more than three years of sobriety. He attributes his recovery to Hope House, the Chicago-based nonprofit that helps people suffering from homelessness and substance addictions. He also credits a program called Neighbor Carts, where he got his start in business.

“I was homeless, but then I was introduced to Hope House,” Tines said, pointing to the yellow brick building across the street from his cart location. “It’s for drug addicts and homeless people — I happened to be both.”

In March 2012, Tines became a street vendor in North Lawndale with Neighbor Carts, one of many Chicagoans benefiting from the entrepreneurship program.

“We enlisted StreetWise [Magazine] as a key partner of ours to recruit individuals,” said John Piercy, founder and president of Neighbor Capital, a private-owned business developer that runs Neighbor Carts.

After founding the organization in 2009, Piercy secured a grant from the Chicago Department of Housing and Economic Development to train street vendors. Tines and other vendors operate carts throughout the city.

Piercy said his organization recruits potential vendors from workforce agencies already looking to help the unemployed. Neighbor Capital’s focus isn’t only on developing businesses, but using entrepreneurship to attack social ills.

“It took off like a rocket,” Tines said about opening his cart. “I didn’t think this was going to be the thing [that made me] financially stable, but it has.”

Tines said he is “feeling pretty happy” being a part of Neighbor Carts.

The program, according to Piercy, also gives opportunities to, and breaks down barriers for, individuals with a criminal background and/or drug history. Tines recalled when he hit rock bottom.

“I didn’t care about life anymore; never thought I’d get off of drugs until I came here,” he said.

Having tried everything else, Tines said he understood that his way of doing things wasn’t working. A structured place like Hope House was what he needed to connect with the right people and create a better opportunity. Neighbor Carts also helped.

“[John] came up with a fantastic idea, and it’s working,” Tines said. “The main thing is that doing this kind of work here, you actually help out people with their eating habits. Everything I cook and eat now is baked. And I always have fruit to go along with [my meals]. It gives me a lot of energy.”

New vendors are trained anywhere from four weeks to three months before setting up shot. They then set their own prices and order their products.

“It’s their own micro-business,” Piercy said. “They function as an entrepreneur; we support them. We give them the opportunity to operate it independently with a lease agreement. Eventually, vendors can go from leasing the cart to becoming a partial owner of the company and having access to profit-sharing.”

Carts are filled with healthy food products such as fruits, nuts and vegetables, and Piercy in the future would like to include flowers. Apples, pears, grapes, strawberries, bananas and oranges fill Tines’ cart.

Piercy said Neighbor Carts has always taken a health-focused approach, adding: “Food Deserts were a big issue in Chicago and so whatever we developed, we wanted it to be part of solving real issues.”

Food Deserts are areas without convenient access to healthy, fresh foods stores or restaurants. They’re typically in underserved communities with higher rates of food-related illnesses, such as diabetes and obesity, Piercy noted.

And that’s where something like Neighbor Carts steps in.

“We’re structured as a social-impact business; that’s our framework,” Piercy said. “I really wanted to see the day-to-day presence, as well as some sort of tangible space in the neighborhoods driven through customer relationships.”

Neighbor Carts has seven locations throughout the city: North Lawndale, Uptown, Wicker Park, Streeterville, Bucktown and two in Little Village. Every location except for Bucktown operates daily, including during the winter.

Piercy hopes to have more carts in the city, focusing the business on education and “expanding opportunities for new vendors.”

The Enterprize Zone is a regular business feature in Austin Weekly News.

To learn more

  • Neighbor Capital, LLC
  • 312-970-9150
  • info@neighborcapital.com