Chicago independent businesses challenged by rent and internet competition; desire supportive small-business policies.

What is the climate for local businesses in Chicago?


Each year, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance conducts its Independent Business Survey about the climate for businesses in Local First communities. In January, 2016, over 100 Chicago businesses participated in the study, answering questions about challenges they face, public policy for local businesses, and benefits of publicity and marketing through Local First Chicago.

Perhaps the largest concern for business owners is the threat of increased rents at their business locations. In response to the question “How worried are you about changes in rents [for locations you lease]?” 88% of respondents are worried or very worried that rent prices are rising faster than their revenue.

Retailers made up 30% of Chicago business owners who took the survey, and they answered questions specific to retail business.


By far the most significant challenge to local retailers is competition from internet retail. While the results shown here demonstrate that Chicago retail respondents and retailers in other communities agree on such challenges as internet competition, competitive pricing and terms, and competition from large chains, our local retailers struggle more than the sum of Local First communities with finding qualified employees, affording marketing and a financially insecure customer base.

Public Policy
Our local businesses demonstrated a strong majority support for vigorous enforcement of antitrust laws, a federal policy to cap credit card merchant fees and a cap on economic development tax breaks for large companies. 11% of respondents frequently advocate and 31% occasionally advocate, but nearly 60% of Chicago respondents rarely or never advocate to officials on public policies that affect their businesses.

Does the Local First movement benefit local businesses? Both locally and nationally, Local First initiatives make public officials more aware and supportive of local businesses. While Local First Chicago strengthens the public dialogue about local businesses, we have room to improve our publicity of the local business community through collaboration and mutual support as well as cultivating and strengthening the local customer base. Local businesses in other Local First communities report a significantly stronger promotional benefit than our Chicago businesses.

Find more information about the survey responses of Chicago business owners here.

Together in 2016
When we compare the Independent Business Survey data from Chicago to the data of other Local First communities, we see that there is room for the Local First movement to grow here. Winning public policy issues or competing against internet retail are daunting endeavors for any business owner independently, but together, we can confront the challenges our local businesses face. Local First Chicago exists to strengthen Chicago's neighborhood economies by promoting the benefits of locally owned, independent businesses. For more information on Local First Chicago’s activities in 2016, register your business in our directory and sign up for our e-newsletters.

Read the complete Institute for Local Self-Reliance report here.