DNC Host Committee Releases Chicago-Area Vendor, Venue Guides Showcasing Scores of Local Businesses

(Michael Izquierdo / WTTW News)(Michael Izquierdo / WTTW News)

A just-published guide from organizers of the Democratic National Convention is intended to help party loyalists plan events in Chicago for the 50,000 delegates due to descend on the city this August.

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The guide could also assist couples preparing to host a wedding; parents organizing a bar mitzvah or quinceañera; new residents looking for places to shop, bowl, eat and drink; and even longtime Chicagoans who want to explore the city and state.

The new online portal of entertainment options also serves as a reminder of the opportunity for local establishments seeking a bite of the estimated $150-200 million pie the DNC is expected to bring.

“We love when there’s guests in (hotel) beds, because that puts diners in seats,” Illinois Restaurant Association president Sam Toia said, adding that the beds will be filled not just with delegates, but also journalists, business leaders and members of advocacy groups, all of whom will be looking to get together, especially after COVID-19 caused the 2020 conventions to go virtual.

“A lot of Fortune 500, Fortune 200 companies and their lobbyists are going to be there,” Toia said. “There’s going to be a lot of entertaining.”

The DNC’s host committee Thursday rolled out a vendor directory that lists scores of caterers; floral, photography, IT, audio/visual and staffing services; construction and security firms; and maintenance and transportation companies.

The directory includes nearly 1,300 vendors in the city, plus several hundred outside of Cook County (though those aren’t easy to distinguish).

A separate venue guide lists hundreds of restaurants, bars and special event spaces in the greater Chicago area searchable by location, capacity and ADA accessibility, in addition to whether the establishment’s employees are unionized and whether the space is owned by a person of color, a veteran, a woman, someone with a disability or a person who identifies as LBGTQ+.

The venue categories, which can be roughly filtered by location, include restaurants and bars; rooftops and patios; museums and cultural landmarks; theaters and music venues; galleries; historic sites; breweries, wineries and distilleries; and yachts and boats.

The guides are meant to serve as a repository of answers for out-of-staters wondering questions like: Where should I host my Idaho state dinner party? Where should I host the National Association of Black Journalists event?

“This will be used for everything from your 15-person executive dinner to the 1,500-person appreciation event for the California Democratic Party,” said Chicago DNC Host Committee spokesperson Natalie Edelstein.

A disclaimer on the site makes clear the vendors and establishments listed were not vetted by the host committee or the Democratic National Convention Committee, though organizers have relationships with some of the listed businesses, like restaurants and print shops.

Edelstein said businesses that entered their information for inclusion in the guide described their own entities and ownership structure.

While the convention activities will be centered at the United Center and McCormick Place — and DNC organizers are pointedly maintaining a “tight footprint” in which all delegates stay in hotels within a five-mile radius — the host committee also holds several large-scale events at other places, including welcome parties for delegates and the media.

Requests for proposals are out, so contracts haven’t yet been inked for those.

State political operations, corporations and Democratic allied groups host a multitude of ancillary private dinners, meetings, parties and gatherings.

Toia said it’s an opportunity for restaurants and bars to make money, but also to shine a light on Chicago’s culinary scene, and he hopes the media attention will translate to more visitors down the road.

Party planners are already in the throes of choosing locations for their DNC events.

Restaurant group The Fifty/50, whose establishments include the namesake Fifty/50, Roots Handmade Pizza and West Town Bakery, is preparing — and competing — to host.

“We’re very lucky because our portfolio has something for everybody in it,” sales director Amanda Peters said. “Right now, all of the largest spaces are starting to book up.”

Peters said The Fifty/50 group has seen interest in dining paired with an experience — for example, going to the Willis Tower for a visit to the Skydeck in concert with dinner at The Kindling restaurant and then a private party on the 99th floor “with ridiculously wonderful, perhaps the best views of the city.” Another example could be a group that wants to book an improv show at The Second City paired with a party at Utopian Tailgate.

“We have been in the process of talking to clients since November, since last year,” Peters said. “We’ve had a lot of walk-throughs, and we’re getting a lot of interest.”

Locations in the Loop and River North may go sooner because they’re close to the convention itself, but Toia said visitors often seek restaurants in Chicago’s storied neighborhoods.

Toia, who calls Chicago the “culinary capital of the United States” said the committee is actively pushing events out to Pilsen, Hyde Park, Logan Square and Rogers Park.

DNC organizers said it’s an intentional effort to spread the economic boost beyond the city’s core, with the vendor and venue websites serving as a resource.

“We’re trying to spread the dollars as far as we can,” Edelstein said. “One of our goals is to make sure that we’re spreading the wealth around and making sure that these small and minority-owned businesses are in the hands of people planning, elevating businesses that normally don’t get a first bite at the apple.”

The DNC is seeking “neighborhood ambassadors” to help delegates and others in town for the DNC to connect with Chicago’s community areas and the suburbs. Saturday is the deadline to apply.

Edelstein said the venue and vendor guide will be updated every Friday; she described it as a “living, breathing resource.”

After the DNC, which goes from Aug. 19-22, Edelstein said the guides will be given to one or more tourism organizations, like Choose Chicago or Enjoy Illinois, for use as they recruit and help to execute conventions.

The $150-200 million economic impact figure is based on the most recent, pre-pandemic conventions in Charlotte and Philadelphia. Edelstein said organizers will conduct a full economic impact study after the DNC.

Milwaukee is likewise set to get an economic lift, with the Republican National Convention scheduled for July 15-18. The RNC is actively working to steer its delegates and their dollars away from Illinois.

In a Dec. 12 RNC blog post, organizers commit to placing all delegates at hotels in Kenosha, Madison or elsewhere within Wisconsin’s borders but avoiding places across the state line, quoting a Politico article that said it was an intentional decision because Illinois is a blue state.

Contact Amanda Vinicky: @AmandaVinicky[email protected]

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