After two years of uncertainty, the fate of vendors at the Discount Mall in Little Village is still unknown.
For now, it’s business as usual inside the mall on 26th Street in Little Village as customers navigate through the aisles and vendors work to land a sale. But the merchants don’t know how long they’ll have to actually run their businesses.
Novak Construction bought the property back in 2020 and vendors say the mall’s contract is set to expire at the end of the month.
“Just give us time … OK,” said vendor Sarfraz Satti. “We give you one month, one year, two years, whatever it is be honest with us.“
Satti has been working at the mall since 1989, but that could be over come the end by the end of the month. The contract between Novak Construction and the tenant who manages the vendors is set to expire Aug. 31.
“It’s frustrating,” Satti said. “We don’t know if we are going to open the store tomorrow or if they are going to tell us they give us a week to take your merchandise and get out.”
Over the course of the last year, WTTW News has attempted multiple times to communicate with Novak Construction but a spokesperson has not responded to questions about the mall’s future.
“It’s sad that they haven’t responded to know and keep moving forward,” said Veronica Gutierrez, a vendor. “We have to keep pushing and if it’s here, even better.”
Gutierrez and her husband have been running an electronic shop for more than 20 years. She says they’ve basically raised their kids in the mall.
“I would want to tell them to give us the opportunity to continue here in our businesses,” she said. “That we’re hardworking people, and I want to push forward, and we’re not bad people.”
Daniel Reynoso is a resident of Little Village and a community activist with Lucha Por La Villita. He says he isn’t surprised the developer hasn’t said a word, but now worries what losing the mall would mean for the neighborhood.
“Here in Little Village we do have the sale of Discount Mall, you have the proposal for El Paseo bike path, you have the recent acquisition with the Target and Hilco, and you have the Chamber of Commerce corridor rejuvenation of 26th Street,” Reynoso said. “All four of those things are great but they don’t provide the protections to keep the people who live here here … because unless they provide rent protection, property tax protection you’re not going to be here to enjoy the amenities.”
Over the last two years WTTW News has interviewed multiple merchants who have echoed concerns about speaking up in fear of losing their booths.
“One of the things that I’ve noticed is when we speak up we’re told talk to your alderman, follow the avenues of communication that exist,” Reynoso said. “But if the powers that be, whether they’re political or certain community powers, are on the side of the corporation, and you’re trying to open dialogue with them, and they’re just not listening. So what do you do?”
Ald. George Cardenas represents the area where the mall is located. He says he hasn’t heard from Novak.
“This is private transaction. I think what people miss on this as an alderman is that this is how we get in trouble if you get too much in the private thing,” Cardenas said. “People are going to say there must be a reason why you’re getting in between transactions.”
With the ward maps being redrawn, the Little Village Plaza will soon be in Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez’ ward. He tells us he has plans to visit the discount mall.
“I have already reached out to the Department of Planning to learn exactly what the status of this development is. For us the local economy and the local vendors are important,” Sigcho-Lopez said. “Ald. Cárdenas has said that he welcomes a good faith negotiation. He hasn’t provided an update on exactly where things are at, but I already made a formal request and my intention is to meet with the small vendors.”
Several vendors say they understand the mall is in need of major renovations and they hope Novak decides to keep out big-box stores.
“I can think of it from a historic point: that this culture place, this hub, is going to be gone, but then what I worry about is what is going to happen to all the folks who are here, all the vendors and all the economic opportunity that this place provides,” Reynoso said.