Mayor Emanuel Introduces First-Of-Its-Kind Ordinance To License Pop-Up Stores, Restaurants

July 25, 2018

Proposed license structure would allow fledgling entrepreneurs to test concepts without the burden of a long-term lease or license

Mayor’s Press Office 312.744.3334

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection (BACP) today introduced an ordinance to City Council to create a licensing structure to allow for the operation of short-term “pop-up” stores, including restaurants. With this license, Chicago’s restaurateurs and entrepreneurs will now have the chance to test their concepts without the burden of a long-term lease or license.

“My administration is committed to making it easier to do business in Chicago, which is why we've taken significant steps to reduce the administrative burden on small business owners so they can focus on creating thriving businesses in neighborhoods across the city," said Mayor Emanuel. "Chicago is home to some of the most innovative and forward-thinking entrepreneurs, and this new license - which would be the first-of-its-kind in the nation - will allow businesses to easily test out new business ideas and locations."

Entrepreneurs looking to operate as a pop-up will be able to obtain a cheap, easy pop-up user license. Currently, business owners seeking to operate pop-up establishments must obtain a full 2-year license. If approved by City Council, the new license will provide the option of a 5-, 30-, 90-, 180-, or 365-day license, depending on their business activity, all at a very low cost and without an on-site inspection. In fact, the user license is not tied to a location, so the holder can “roam” during the length of the license and operate all around the city.

"In 2017, the South Shore Chamber of Commerce along with community and business partners hosted a successful retail pop-up festival during the holiday season,” said Tonya Trice, Executive Director of the South Shore Chamber of Commerce. “This allowed budding entrepreneurs an opportunity to test their business model while also affording established business owners the opportunity to try the South Shore community as a location. I am thrilled BACP is expanding the framework to allow for this innovative and creative business model in the city of Chicago."

Beyond helping the small business community, this new license will bring vibrancy to neighborhoods by filling vacant storefronts and providing more and varied retail options to all Chicagoans. Landlords looking to rent out their space for pop-up restaurants or cafes will be able to obtain a cheap, low-burden pop-up host license. Landlords will not be required to obtain a license to host general retail pop-ups, which include pre-packaged food – these pop-up users will be allowed to operate out of any non-residential or manufacturing location in the city. 

“We’ve listened to the small business community that has been calling for retail food pop-ups for a long time,” said Rosa Escareno, Commissioner of BACP. “We are very excited to give pop-up users and hosts this opportunity and want to make this process as easy as possible for everyone.”

The benefit of this ordinance is not limited to just new entrepreneurs. Existing restaurants will now be allowed to operate as a pop-up at a licensed location other than their existing establishment, without obtaining an additional license or paying an extra fee. Or, if an existing restaurant only operates for certain hours or certain days of the week, they will now be able to obtain a supplemental license and host pop-ups when they are not actively operating. Finally, if allowed under zoning, existing shared kitchen operators will also be able to host pop-up users.

This ordinance is part of slate of small business initiatives that Mayor Emanuel announced at the end of April in his “Small Business Brief” to lift the regulatory burden on Chicago’s entrepreneurs, simplify the licensing process and reduce the burden of inspections. On June 27, the first of the Mayor’s small business ordinances was passed by City Council, creating a start-up license fee and allowing sidewalk cafés to operate year-round. The start-up license fee permits all new Limited Business Licensees to obtain a 2-year license for a 1-year price. In the coming months, the City will be creating a license inspection checklist to reduce confusion for new business owners and roll-out night and weekend inspection shifts to better accommodate business owners.

These new initiatives are part of the Mayor’s ongoing commitment to make small business growth a priority of his administration, including:

  • Reducing the fees for numerous licenses, benefiting 10,000 business owners.
  • Cutting the total number of business licenses from 117 to 40.
  • Streamlining inspections to help reduce the number of inspections for more than 2,000 businesses and helping businesses open an average of 30 days faster.
  • Doubling health inspection passage rates and helping participating restaurants open an average of 45 days earlier through the Restaurant Startup Program.
  • Working with more than 70 delegate agencies to bring indispensable business support to neighborhoods. 
  • Investing more than $11 million in 108 South and West Side businesses through the Neighborhood Opportunity Fund and Retail Thrive Zones programs.                     


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