Though it looked like a regular old shopping mall, walking into Discount Mall was more than an experience–it was a state of mind. It used to be the place where things happened for Mexican immigrants in Chicago, where people’s so-called American dreams would begin to take shape.
There is where you, as a recent arrival, might’ve gotten your first job for a few dollars an hour, where you might’ve cashed your first paycheck or sent a long-anticipated money order to your mom. There is where someone could find a cowboy shirt next to the latest in urban fashion, a Catholic candle or rosary, coveted Nike sneakers, and freestyle music, all in one centralized location.
You could be both a vendor and a shopper. It was an ecosystem that existed within and outside the confines of the established Little Village economy. But this American Dream was also subject to American market forces, and Discount Mall vendors were no exception. Overnight the property was bought and the rug pulled from under their feet.
In 2020, Novak Development, the new owner, announced plans to revamp the Discount Mall and attract national retailers. For the next two years, dozens of vendors said John Novak refused to meet with them directly to discuss their options. Through one of two managing tenants, half of the vendors were given until March 26 to vacate the property; the other tenant signed a renewable lease. Though the City of Chicago intervened to request an extension from Novak, which he granted on their last day, vendors said it was too late as many had already moved out.
There go generations of half-fulfilled dreams.