COMMENTARY- by Mell Monroe, Owner – Welcome Inn Manor bed and breakfast- Bronzeville
Over the past twenty years, I have been a positive presence in the historic Bronzeville neighborhood on the south side of Chicago. I have always been interested in ways of improving my community. In 2008, I decided to run for alderman of the 3rd ward. It was a challenge to not only the incumbent, Dorothy Tillman, but to local labor unions and Chicago’s political machine. Even though my aldermanic challenge did not work out, I still wanted to contribute to the community.
With the help of my wife, we decided to convert our home into Welcome Inn Manor, a Bed & Breakfast. Since its inception, we have hosted over one thousand guests. To date, Welcome Inn Manor is one of only twenty-two B&B’s in Chicago, three of which are located on the south side. Our location is unique. We are ten minutes from downtown with close proximity to Lake Shore Drive, the University of Chicago and the largest convention center in North America. Tourism is better than ever in Chicago.
Bronzeville has a rich cultural heritage in fine arts, music, and architecture. We have the very things that travelers seek as they explore various cities throughout the world. As an Inn-keeper, I have perfected the art of making travelers feel comfortable, pampered and secure within the confines of my establishment. My guests have confirmed this by their outstanding testimonials. But guest reviews are not enough. We must provide our guest with a positive community experience, not just a room for the night. Visitors want and expect to patronize our neighborhood restaurants and businesses. But tourist must feel safe and secure as they explore all parts of our city. The 47th Street business corridor and other business districts in close proximity to our location leave much to be desired.
I am deeply concerned about neighborhoods like mine from a small business perspective. Chicago’s great historic infrastructure rivals that of any other big city in the country. It is both walking and bicycle friendly. But no one wants to walk or bicycle through unsafe neighborhoods. Our city will never truly be considered a “first class” city as long as African American neighborhoods are perceived as dangerous. Our city will never be its best if our neighborhoods suffer from benign neglect. Chicago will never truly be “the city that works” if its historic neighborhoods are marginalized by mediocre governance and unequal standards.
I had hoped that the economic prosperity that I envisioned in the surrounding neighborhood could have grown in tandem with my Bed & Breakfast. I had hoped that other businesses would join me in making the neighborhood a safe place and therefore more palatable to visitors who could travel our streets without fear. Unfortunately, too many business corridors in the Black neighborhoods have failed miserably. Our streets are not welcoming. Our streets are not hospitable. Our streets do not invite leisurely exploration. Our streets are not friendly to those that don’t look like me.
Over the last several years, I have expressed the dismal plight of the small businessman to our political establishment and through various written publications. But there has been no apparent interest, there has been no outcry, there has been no action. Not a single public official has visited our place of business or spoken with guests about their experience in Black neighborhoods. Operating any business can be a difficult and daunting undertaking. Operating a Black business, in a Black neighborhood requires a special tenacity. Welcome Inn Manor has not defaulted on our bank loan. We have not sold our highly rated B & B. We are still taking reservations well into 2018. We will not fail. We are survivors!