WTTW News Explains: How Did Dibs Become a Chicago Winter Tradition?

The first snowstorm of the season is officially upon us, which means it is time to take up that age-old Chicago debate.

Every winter, Chicago stands divided around a practice commonly known as “dibs” – when car owners use janky household objects to reserve their precious shoveled-out parking spaces.

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The idea behind dibs is that digging your car out from the snow earns you exclusive rights to the spot. And should you decide to flout dibs and park in a space someone else has marked with a folding chair, dubiously acquired traffic cones or a late Georgian Hepplewhite sideboard, there’s an implicit threat that your car will pay the price.

So how did dibs begin?

Well, Chicago is among a handful of American cities that have the conditions that create a perfect storm for winter parking — high car ownership, a dense urban environment and a snowy climate.

Historic snowfalls in 1967 and 1979 were so catastrophic to Chicago’s streets — and shovelers’ backs — that folks began defending their spots with whatever junk was handy. 

Since then, hauling out the old milk crates or patio furniture after a hefty snowfall has become more or less standard practice in Chicago — much to the chagrin of others who find the practice petty and a little un-neighborly.

Though we’re the biggest city to call dibs, we’re not the only one.

In Pittsburgh, it’s known as the “Pittsburgh Parking Chair.” They also do it in Boston, but they probably call it the “pahking chaih.”

And if the term “dibs” — which Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass coined in 1999 —  isn’t cute enough for you, in Philadelphia they call it “savesies.”

Bottom line, is dibs legal in Chicago? Come on – it’s not, of course it’s not. You know it’s not.

But when Mayor Richard M. Daley was asked his thoughts on dibs in 2001, he echoed the feelings of many Chicagoans: “If someone spends all that time digging out a spot, do not drive into that spot.”

So consider that fair warning, Chicago. Until a city leader has the snowballs to enforce a no-dibs policy, park in somebody else’s dibs spot at your own risk.

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