An Austin storefront near the border with Oak Park is about to get more lively. Developer and business owner Letrusia May plans on turning the location at 5936 W. Chicago Ave. into a private event space for local residents to rent out. The space will also double as a pop-up retail site for area business that don't have brick-and-mortal spaces of their own.
May said that she's already completed the renovations and is currently waiting to get a zoning change to allow her to host events and a permit to install an awning. The zoning change is expected to go before the full Chicago City Council on March 13. May said that she expects the awning application to make its way through the City Council committees sometime later this month.
For the past few years, the Austin African American Business Networking Association (AAABNA) has been working to transform the section of Chicago Avenue between Austin Boulevard and Central Avenue into a thriving "Soul Corridor" filled with black-owned businesses, restaurants and entertainment destinations. Thanks to the lobbying by AAABNA executive director Malcolm Crawford and other supporters, the area was designated a Retail Thrive Zone, which allowed local businesses to apply for grants to cover start-up costs.
May, 43, grew up in Austin and owns L. May Creations, a company that produces custom jewelry and party decorations. Her LinkedIn profile also mentions that she has experience as a loan officer and a broker, and it lists her as an owner of Community Residential Solutions, an Austin-based company that rehabilitates and manages apartment buildings.
In 2017, she bought the Chicago Avenue building after receiving a $250,000 Retail Thrive Zone grant to help her buy the Chicago Avenue building and turn the first floor into a physical store. At the time, she had plans to host spoken poetry nights and offer art classes for children.
But May said that she had second thoughts about what she wanted to use the space for. She said she wanted to do something that would be more beneficial for the community and make more business sense.
"I felt that that our community needed a space that is really elegant, where they could come and have private time with their loved ones," she said. "People [in Austin] have to go outside the community for that."
In her zoning application, May stated that the space would be "offered to the residents of the community for private meetings and small private gatherings." During a recent interview, she said the space may also host events like birthday parties and baby showers.
May said that she used the grant to renovate the space, buying chandeliers, "top-quality" cabinets and other furniture. She said it was important to her to have something impressive.
"[I believe that] you believe in what you can see," she said
May said that she's already hired two part-time employees from the community, with hopes of hiring more local residents as the business grows.
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