L1 is Open for Business: Meeting with the Fellows of UChicago’s Creative Business Accelerator and Retail Store


L1 Fellows: Andrea Polk, Peter Gaona, Tiffany Joi/Photo: Philip Thomas

The hotel is located in and named after the first “L” station built in 1892 on historic Garfield Boulevard in Washington Park. L1 is a creative business accelerator program and retail store operated and managed by Art + Public Life, an initiative of UChicago Arts. His mission? To ignite culturally stimulated growth on Chicago’s South Side and improve opportunities for communities that have been excluded from economic development. Its residents receive a twenty-month stipend, 700 square feet of subsidized, shared brick-and-mortar retail space, and the opportunity to scale their creative business to the next level.

Photo: Zen Soul Apothecary

The first Creative Business Accelerator grantees are all South Side-based black-owned businesses. Tiffany Jois Hemp Heals Body Shop offers CBD bath and body products including oil drops, ointments, bath salts and whipped body butter. “I’m originally from Chicago’s South Side, born and raised. This is my home base, my people — people who look like me, and the consumers I want to help naturally from within,” says Joi, who began exploring the benefits of CBD to help her mom help it was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis and fibromyalgia. She then developed her first product: the CBD pain ointment. Since then, she has dedicated herself to handcrafting CBD products to relieve stress, depression, and anxiety, leaving you feeling cool, calm, and collected.

Photo: Solo Noir

Andrea Polk is running solo noir, an all-natural skincare and grooming brand for men of color. Polk had her aha moment during grad school. “I realized that men of color were underserved in the nursing industry,” she says. “This discovery resonated with my innate passion for facilitating natural healthcare and sparked an urge to explore more. I have worked to create a groundbreaking system of care that is as effective as it is simple. Made with soothing, organic, all-natural ingredients, my grooming solution is designed to help you look your best without complicating your life.” From grooming products to shaving products to beard washes and balms to body care. solo noir is designed to help restore confidence through clear, healthy skin.

Photo: Reformed School

Besides that solo noirPolk also founded Zen Soul Apothecary with her daughter Ava. There she helps create balance and zen in the body and at home, offering services such as Reiki healing, crystal healing and chakra alignment. The mother-daughter team also offer a range of products – from crystals and stones to palo santo and smudge sticks to bath bombs and herbal tea.

Photo: Hemp Heals Body Shop

Peter Gaona from Reformed School combines art, fashion and eco-friendly materials to create clothes and apparel. Its mission is to use fashion as a vehicle to educate about issues such as the environment, history, social justice and pop culture. Gaona who founded Reformed School in 2013 as a pre-tied bow tie and accessories brand, has expanded beyond its signature bow tie collections into apparel, stationery and even homeware. Its products include t-shirts, hoodies and rugby shirts, colorful cushions made from recycled plastic bottles, mugs, greeting cards, patches and of course bow ties – some things never change. Everyone has a story to tell.

Photo: Reformed School

Bringing character and individuality to the Chicago community, L1 offers a new perspective, an opportunity to shop locally, but most importantly, a way to support small business owners and underrepresented communities. The University of Chicago initiative is a powerful catalyst for neighborhood revitalization and is sure to make a difference. As Gaona puts it, “Retail locations can be more than just a place to purchase physical goods, they can also serve as community centers and advocacy spaces, creating an atmosphere that reflects the surrounding community.”

319 East Garfield Blvd. Shop opening hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 11am-7pm


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