Small businesses are what makes Hyde Park the unique neighborhood it is, but more and more, these independently owned businesses are struggling.
So far in 2016, six of the nine storefronts that have closed were run by small business owners. Many have said it’s a struggle to compete with the big corporations moving in like Whole Foods and Target, but Pockets Franchise owner, Matthew Fritzinger, is optimistic about his business.
Pockets has been in the neighborhood at 1307 E. 53rd St., for 17 years, and Fritzinger has owned the business for the past five. Pockets is known for its healthy fast food options including salads, calzones and baked multi-grain bread filled with vegetables, cheeses and meats known as a “pocket”.
“The people in Hyde Park are the most important thing to this business,” Fritzinger said.
Fritzinger said that as a small business, he works with local schools such as Kenwood Academy, 5105 S. Blackstone Ave., and Murray Elementary, 5335 S. Kenwood Ave., to cater their fundraising events, and said that in the summer months he hires students from Kenwood almost exclusively to work in his store.
“I’m not doing these things to get anything out of it, I’m doing it because I think it’s the right thing to do as a member of this community,” he said.
He said small businesses know their communities and customers better than big corporations.
“I have relationships with the customers and know about 150 people’s orders by heart; like that guy, he’s about to get our Asian salad,” said Fritzinger, right before greeting a customer who indeed did order an Asian salad.
While keeping up with his customers is something that Fritzinger delights in, he said its getting hard to keep his franchise going in the Hyde Park community when rent prices are rising. Fritzinger said that the University of Chicago, has increased his rent by 35 percent, which reflects the fair market rent.
Fritzinger fears that corporations will move in on the development happening around 53rd Street and become competition.
“Corporate stores and restaurants only need to break even in the long run because other locations they have do well,” Fritzinger said. “It’s a lot different for smaller businesses.”
While one of seven Chicagoland locations, Fritzinger said that Pockets Hyde Park is number two in sales and number one in reputation. He added that Kingoberry Frozen Yogurt, which he added to Pockets three and a half years ago, is the only place in Hyde Park that offers frozen yogurt year round.
Fritzinger hopes that partnerships with Grubhub and UberEATS will help market his business better, and that his involvement with the community will help as well.
“We are a part of the Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce and we participate in the First Thursday event every month,” he said. “We will also be a part of the upcoming Dinner Crawl in October where people can sample our famous pockets.”
[Via: Hyde Park Herald]