Chicago hosts gather for a week of merchant walks through the city’s South Side

As the summer season came to a close, Airbnb hosts took some time to explore some local spots across Chicago’s South Side. Spanning six days, groups of hosts visited restaurants, cafés, and boutiques in six different South Side neighborhoods.

The visits — or “merchant walks” — were motivated by a campaign by South Side hosts to forge closer ties with local restaurants and small businesses. Home sharing and Airbnb’s host community have opened up the South Side to a new wave of tourism and revenue to a part of the city that has been overlooked by the traditional hospitality industry. In 2016, South Side hosts welcomed 28,000 guest arrivals, earning $3.7 million in supplemental income in the process. Importantly, Airbnb guests to Chicago spend $205 a day on average, and 40 percent of that is spent in the neighborhood in which they’re staying.

South Side hosts increasingly serve as ambassadors for their neighborhoods. The merchant walks in the Bronzeville, South Shore, Woodlawn, Hyde Park, and Chatham neighborhoods introduced hosts to some new locally owned establishments that they can now recommend to their guests.  

Day one: Bronzeville

The first day, hosts toured historic Bronzeville. Known for its role during the “Great Migration” at the turn of 20th century, historic Bronzeville has since experienced a modern renaissance, bridging the gap between its rich history and promising future.

Hosts visited three unique Historic Bronzeville stops including Simply Soups Salad & Sandwiches, Two Fish Crab Shack, and Uncle Joe’s.

Day two: South Shore

Next on the agenda was South Shore, a traditionally middle and upper class neighborhood along Chicago’s lakefront featuring tree lined streets and quaint single family homes. South Shore has experienced significant economic development over the past decade, as revitalization and investment in the neighborhood have taken hold.

While in the area, hosts stopped by two restaurants Majani’s Soulful Vegetarian Restaurant and Surf’s Up. The first is an all vegetarian spot that sources locally grown produce from gardens across the South Side and serves them in a quiet and cozy dining room. Next hosts checked out Surf’s Up, a take-out only seafood spot featuring grilled and fried options. Owner and primary chef Venetta Roy shares her own family recipes with her guests, only serving food that she herself would want to eat.

Day three: Woodlawn

The following day hosts visited Woodlawn, which will soon serve as home to the Obama Presidential Library. As such, Woodlawn has seen an outpouring of interest from Chicagoans and visitors alike, as new restaurants and cafés continue to pop up throughout the neighborhood.

Hosts met at Robust Coffee Lounge to grab some fair trade coffee and locally sourced treats and in-house baked goods. Then they continued on to Daley’s, Chicago’s oldest restaurant. Founded in 1892, Daley’s has been serving classic diner bites since The World’s Columbian Exposition and has remained as a favorite for locals ever since.

Day four: Hyde Park

Hyde Park was the next stop for our hosts. With attractions like the University of Chicago, the Obamas’ former home, and the Museum of Science and Industry, Hyde Park is known as an academic and cultural epicenter in the city.

Hosts grabbed a bite and Noodles Etc., a casual Thai restaurant that is a favorite of University of Chicago students and staff. Next stop was Z&H Market Cafe which offers locally sourced groceries and fresh made deli sandwiches. The night ended at Medici Bakery where hosts shared some fresh made baked goods and artisanal drinks before heading home.

Day five: Chatham

Lastly, hosts rounded out their tour of the South Side in Chatham, a neighborhood recently put on the map by local Grammy winning artist Chance the Rapper. A predominantly residential area, Chatham’s economic potential continues to drive new businesses to open their doors within its confines.

The week of merchant walks ended at Captain Hooks Fish & Chicken, a reasonably priced spot that serves up food that feels like it’s been made in your own kitchen.