Photo Credit: Jocelyn Vega

Brighton Park’s commercial strip, starting at South Brighton Place and South Archer Avenue and continuing southwest down Archer, can easily be overlooked as just another street of unfamiliar businesses you drive by. But if you pull over and step closer, you’ll find a series of unique shops. Once you step inside, you can see the time and effort behind each place.

Brighton Park sits on the shoulder of Chicago’s Southwest Side, a convening of autonomous and cultural economies: blocks of small Latinx and Mexican-owned businesses. Brighton Park is also a shoulder lifting local livelihoods, a neighborhood that is shouldering a pandemic economy. When the city completely shut down earlier this year, shop owners echoed the importance of your time, purchases, and recommendations to the people you know. They shared how online shopping, big box stores, and even regional chains had soaked up customers before they reached their door.

Photo Credit: Jocelyn Vega

Flower shop owner Baldemar Galindo stressed how a community leader like Martin Luther King Jr. is needed at this moment. For him, the absence of a leader is deeply felt. He explained that Chicago needs someone to defend the autonomy of small shops against the growing trend of one-stop national and regional chains—dead ends in our communities. He explained that over time, big box stores keep providing more: liquor, flowers, cooked food, housing goods, and more, all under one roof. He’s concerned that more people go straight to those establishments and stay there. He hopes people remember a dollar’s local impact.  

The shop owners and street vendors I spoke to on Archer stressed that their businesses aren’t reinvesting profits—simply keeping their doors open is the current stressor. They shared that their businesses represent their entire livelihood, their life, and their pride in generational practices. Many worked in these family-owned stores as children, and many felt that nothing else was meant for them. But in these times, without more business, they fear losing everything.

The shops lined up on Archer represent more than business names—they carry the years of experiences it took for business owners to reach this point in their careers. Some started their craft as a kid; others started “desde mi tierra” (it started since my land), referring to how they started saving save up for their front door’s opening day.

If you’re willing, I invite you to spark conversations in these shops and listen to shopkeepers’  thoughts and advice. When you visit shops, you can see how shops are actually homes. Shopping local means directly supporting the artisans and curators: families, generations, and community members. It’s hard to not have a conversation when you recognize workers and shop owners as part of the community. (Jocelyn Vega)

Neighborhood Captain Jocelyn Vega is a first-generation Latina and a contributing editor to the Weekly.

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Best Affordable Plant and Flower Shop

Eventos Galindo 

When visiting, I spoke with shop owner Baldemar Galindo, who is determined to keep his shop open. He shared how the COVID-19 shutdowns forced businesses to dance on a tightrope. He explained that businesses either closed, falling off the tightrope, or found a way to stay open, with the owners fearful that the next step might be their last.

We talked about the struggles of being a single shop against growing monopolies in physical stores and over consumers’ attention. He’s worried generations of craft, knowledge and practice will be crushed by corporate and online shopping. His storefront is the product of years spent working with plants and skills gained growing up. His shop offers a variety of fresh flowers, potted plants, plant decorations, and additional florist services. He explained that he’s doing his best to advertise—but it’s difficult when people like to shop for everything in a single store.

As mentioned in the introduction, he hopes to someday see an economic leader help uplift independent shops. He noted that small businesses, like his, are thankful to existing customers and understand that everyone is struggling to survive right now. He just wishes people realized how far each dollar goes in these small shops. “Twenty dollars make a difference. Every single dollar has value here. Your purchase makes a difference. It means bills get paid. It means another day our doors are open. We need help.” (Jocelyn Vega)

Eventos Galindo, 4207 S. Sacramento Ave. Monday–Friday, 9am–5pm; Saturday, 9am–2pm; closed Sunday. (773) 696-9063.

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Best Corner Weekend Tamal

Lola & Rafa’s Tamales. Photo Credit: Jocelyn Vega

Lola & Rafa’s Tamales

Lola & Rafa’s Tamales is a family business all around. Lalo, his wife Aurora, and their son consistently greet people entering and exiting La Palma Supermercado, the corner where they’ve operated for over ten years—but there are plenty of cars pulling over just to visit them. As a team, they’re busy taking orders, and often run out by early afternoon. When I stopped by, they were serving tamales verdes.

Lalo said his family takes pride in running out. He explained that he’s thankful to each customer that trusts their hard work and appreciates their tamales’ flavors. The family explained that Brighton Park’s neighbors are very encouraging. They also shared their gratefulness towards this community that helps them thrive each weekend. Lalo carries over twenty-one years of craftsmanship—and says, “There’s nothing I [would] rather do but sell my tamales.” 

I recommend visiting this family early in the weekends. I also suggest tipping—each dollar shows appreciation not only toward their time, but toward the years of experience that go into their craft. Lola & Rafa’s also offers tamales that are dulce (sweet) and vegano (vegan), and champurrado drinks. (Jocelyn Vega)

Lola & Rafa’s Tamales,  (773) 633-4666 or (773) 318-1131. Cash only.

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Best Panaderia to Buy Regional and Traditional Mexican Bread

Monterrey Bakery

Monterrey Bakery in Brighton Park. Photo Credit: Jocelyn Vega

This early morning-to-evening bakery is a family favorite to visit. Tall, steel carts are routinely pushed out the kitchen door, filled with a variety of pastries and breads. For under ten dollars, you can feed your household—and have plenty to share with neighbors or friends. The affordability and steady flow of bread makes this panaderia a community staple for so many families. Monterrey also dishes out regional bread styles that are difficult to find elsewhere. My family’s regional favorite is Quesadillas de Atole, which is only sold on Thursdays. On other days, this shop has additional surprises, like Conchas de Canela (cinnamon). As one suggestion, I recommend buying bread to make tortas. Just make sure to go down the block and pick up groceries from the corner Supermercado or carnitas from Paco’s Tacos (Best Carne Asada, 2013 BoSS) to complete the experience.

Monterrey Bakery, 4328 S. Archer Ave. (773) 927-9456. Open every day, 5am–9pm. Cash only.

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Best Hidden Gem Named After Iguanas

Taqueria La Iguanita

This taqueria is simple and perfect. I’ve had some of the best tacos de carne asada right here. I’m aware this is a bold statement, but it’s declared with confidence. La Iguanita’s carne asada is my city-wide favorite. This taqueria is also where my sister and I have bonded during the pandemic. We share our life questions and feelings over tacos, passing salsa containers while eating in the car. Shout out to my sister for introducing me to La Iguanita.

I highly recommend visiting with an appetite, because you’re going to want more. After you push their two doors to enter, you’ll walk straight to their no-frills menu. You can’t go wrong with any of their options. Just make sure you ask for their salsa de aguacate (avocado) as one of their specialties. If you call, I also recommend not being impatient. You’ll need to wait after some rings because they’re a busy shop and worth the quick wait. ¡Provecho! (Jocelyn Vega)

Taqueria La Iguanita, 3733 S. Kedzie Ave. Open every day, 8am–7:30pm. (773) 254-5064. Cash only.

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Best Corner Bodega to Buy Wholesale Produce and Spices

La Bodeguita Beto’s Produce

This tucked-away shop is Brighton Park’s official bodega. In the summertime, especially pre-COVID-19, you would have found a bustling shop with a line out the door. But even now, this bodega continues to serve its community, despite the pandemic’s interruption. Beto’s continues to provide the lowest prices possible, because they want to support families and community members. Their handwritten signs and excellent customer service motivate me to return often. Their motto is “¡Ven y Ahorra–Todos Los Días!” (Come and Save–All of the Days!) (Jocelyn Vega)

La Bodeguita Beto’s Produce, 4233 S. Albany Ave. (708) 208-5301 or (630) 457-0636.

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1 Comment

  1. I’ve lived in Brighton Park for 20 years, but I didn’t know about these particular people and places. Thanks for sharing!

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