The city of Chicago is preparing to throw one of its biggest parades to kick off the holiday shopping season, but officials are divided over how to ensure that stores along the Magnificent Mile will be safe without jeopardizing public safety elsewhere.
While several stores have left the stretch of Michigan Avenue in recent years, with the coronavirus pandemic and civil unrest in the city both shouldering part of the blame, the stores that are there are hoping that this year’s holiday shopping season will be a return to normalcy.
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker is aiming to help stores achieve that goal, awarding a $400,000 grant to help pay for costs of the weekend parade of lights that will kick off that season.
“With one million visitors expected to return to Chicago this weekend, the festival will fill 10,000 hotel rooms, and will spur over $26 million in holiday spending,” he said.
To help protect shoppers and stores, Chicago police have begun stepping up patrols in the area of the Mag Mile. With at least six major thefts reported at retailers in the area in the last month, Mayor Lori Lightfoot is also suggesting additional steps for store owners to take.
“You could require customers to be buzzed into the store,” she said. “There could be cameras on the door. All the merchandise is either chained or roped off, or put behind glass.”
Not all public officials agree with the extra police presence.
“Any time there’s a big pull to protect the downtown community, it comes at the expense of neighborhoods like mine,” Ald. Ray Lopez, whose 15th Ward includes parts of West Englewood, Brighton Park and Back of the Yards, said. “I’ve seen where our beat integrity has been diminished by 50%, and 911 calls go unanswered.”
Still, others say that the additional police presence is required to help Chicago put its best foot forward this holiday season.
“It’s very important,” Ald. Brendan Reilly, who represents parts of the downtown area in the 42nd Ward, said. “It’s the kickoff for our holiday season. It’s an important weekend for our retailers, and we want to use this as an opportunity to show off our beautiful city. It’s imperative that it be safe, and our department has plans in place to make sure that it is.”
In addition to the parade on the Mag Mile, the Christmas tree in Millennium Park will be lit over the weekend, with a full slate of winter fun on deck as the city returns to some of the traditions it had to postpone during the COVID pandemic in 2020.