Serving as executive director of the Logan Square Chamber of Commerce has one duty that Nilda Esparza might not have anticipated — it involves a lot of eating, thanks the restaurant-heavy nature of the local business community.
“I can’t keep up, everything is delicious,” Esparza said. “I recently tried the Mediterranean codfish at Sultan’s Market on California — oh my goodness, I went there twice in one week for it.” Esparza has been using her meals strategically to meet business owners, which has worked well. “But I’m eating a lot,” she says, with a laugh.
Esparza joined the Logan Square Chamber of Commerce as its new Executive Director in January 2021. Born and raised in Pilsen, she lived in Logan Square while attending DePaul University before settling on the city’s south side near Midway Airport. She previously headed up the Little Village Chamber of Commerce from 2010 to 2013, helping to coordinate the neighborhood’s annual Mexican Independence Day parade and working with businesses in the shopping district along 26th Street, which is often called the city’s “second Magnificent Mile” for the amount of retail revenue it generates each year.
In her new role, Esparza said she’s focused on helping local businesses bounce back from the pandemic as well as further building on attributes, like the annual outdoor farmers market, that led to Logan Square being named the city’s “Best North Side Neighborhood” in 2020 by the Chicago Reader. “It shows the tenacity and creativity that the community had to get through that tough year [in 2020],” she said.
Esparza’s current priorities include working with the Milwaukee Avenue Alliance to secure funding to support local restaurants through Chicago Alfresco, a city initiative to increase outdoor dining and encourage organizations to design creative, long-term outdoor spaces. She also plans to continue the Chamber’s work to establish a Special Service Area in the neighborhood, which would help fund services such as street clean-up and beautification along local business corridors.
Additionally, Esparza wants to ensure the chamber is engaging with a diverse entrepreneur base to help fill existing storefront vacancies and make people aware that the Logan Square neighborhood doesn’t end at Milwaukee Avenue.
“One thing I’ve learned working with the Milwaukee Avenue Alliance is that people tend to stop at Milwaukee and not head further west,” she says. “Focusing on that stretch now has been my priority. You have some great restaurants there like La Celia, which has phenomenal chilaquiles, and Tacos Tequila.”
The Logan Square Chamber of Commerce has also operated the neighborhood’s beloved farmers market since 2007, and Esparza and her team have been busy gearing up for the launch of the outdoor market on Sunday, May 9. The social distancing guidelines from last year will still be in place, she said, including limits on capacity and number of vendors. However, she’s expecting this year’s market will still draw crowds.
“With more vaccines out there and people adjusting to all of these guidelines I expect the number of visitors should go up,” Esparza said. “I’m preparing as if it’s pre-COVID times.”
This year’s market will feature a youth program that teaches teens about the importance of sustainably grown food, and the chamber’s new community liaison, Kai Nemoto, has also been focused on finding additional ways to prioritize access to healthy food for all (the market accepts both LINK and SNAP cards).
“We have three holidays that fall in the schedule this year,” Esparza said. “We open with Mother’s Day, we party at 4th of July, and then we close out with Halloween. I told the vendors they gotta get ready because I’m doing a costume competition.”
Anticipating the busy season, she said the chamber is also still in need of volunteers to help with things like clicking in visitors and ensuring social distancing protocols are followed. There are several different shifts available between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. and those interested in applying can email the chamber at info[at]loganchamber.org.
“Moms: if your kids are in high school and need credit hours, send them my way and I’ll take care of them,” she said with a smile.
Featured image: Logan Square Chamber of Commerce