COVID-19 Across Chicago: Back of the Yards


Like other neighborhoods across Chicago, Back of the Yards on the city’s Southwest Side sustained property damage early last week. 

A largely Latino, working-class enclave, neighborhood residents and community leaders say that the brunt of the damage was on Ashland Avenue, home to retailers and chain stores. But the other main business strip on 47th Street – full of mom-and-pop shops and restaurants – was largely spared. 

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Interactive: More from our series, COVID-19 Across Chicago.

One prominent neighborhood social service worker says community members took it upon themselves to protect those shops from looting. 

“People in Back of the Yards do not like to travel out of Back of the Yards,” said Oscar Contreras, who works with the Back of the Yards Neighborhood Council. “We have one market, and we’ve got a few little pop-and-mom stores, so I think those are the people that said hey, this is our community, we can’t allow certain things like this to happen, to destroy our own community.”

One of those local businesses is the Back of the Yards Coffeehouse, which avoided much damage. 

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Co-owner Jesse Iniguez says he didn’t board up windows because he felt like sending a message to the community. 

“We didn’t want to be moved by fear,” he said. “When we first opened up this shop, we wanted to be a symbol of hope for the community, and so by staying open and not boarding it up, we felt that we were kind of being that symbol of hope for the community.” 

Meanwhile, many businesses and restaurants in the neighborhood are beginning to reopen after closing down in March because of the coronavirus pandemic. 

But unlike other neighborhoods across Chicago which have partially shut down streets and sidewalks to accommodate socially distant dining, one local community leader says the idea has been a tough sell in Back of the Yards. 

“It’s a tall order because you’ve got to get the businesses ready to do it, move all their equipment outside, and reroute traffic for a few days,” said Craig Chico, president of the Back of the Yards Neighborhood Council. “Thus far, we haven’t really seen the appetite from our business owners, our restaurant owners, to do that yet. It’s just not conducive for us at this time.” 

Video: Watch our full interview with Craig Chico.

The community is also home to many essential workers, which officials say could be one reason its zip code has seen a relatively high number of COVID-19 cases: 1,761. 

Cook County Commissioner Alma Anaya, who represents the neighborhood and much of the Southwest Side, says a lack of testing in the early stages of the pandemic was an issue.

Now that more testing is available, “the testing sites really brought light to the fact that the COVID has been impacting these areas, these communities, and now with the testing we’ve been able to get a little bit more information of how much it’s been impacting [people],” she said.

Anaya says the county is partnering with local nonprofits and community organizations to share public health information and resources across Back of the Yards and the Southwest Side. 

Video: Our full interview with Cook County Commissioner Alma Anaya.

Follow us on Twitter: @paschutz / @rquinnmyers


Covid Across Chicago

How is the novel coronavirus impacting local businesses, residents and social service agencies across the city and region? And how are local leaders handling the crisis? We hit the streets to answer those questions and more in our ongoing reporting series, COVID-19 Across Chicago. See where we’ve been and what we’ve discovered in this overview. Listed is the official Chicago community area with the neighborhood in parenthesis where appropriate.


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