Jackie Jackson

Jackie Jackson

The day after a stray bullet fired midday on 53rd Street last November, shattering a window of the neighborhood Kilwins, owner Jackie Jackson stood before reporters and said she would be taking a pause from running the business. She said her health was not well.

That trauma was not the first Jackson had experienced running her chain of ice cream and candy franchises: crime against her and other retailers had prompted the closure of her Old Town store a few years ago, and she and her daughter were trapped overnight in their Loop location on Michigan Avenue on May 30, 2020, during the night of protests over the police -killing of George Floyd.

But the Hyde Park shooting was the last that Jackson experienced before getting help and finding a therapist with whom she worked well. She has made enough progress that she has renewed her lease on the Hyde Park Kilwins, 5226 S. Harper Ave., and, once renovations are done, it will reopen.

"Mental health has a stigma, that you've got to be crazy or there's something wrong with you," Jackson said. "I really realized 'no, I need this help, I can't deal with this.'"

"I think everybody could use some mental health help at this point, with what has been going on in the world."

Jackson’s Old Town location had been robbed a few times even while it was open — someone would distract front-of-house employees while others would sneak in behind and steal. On the last occasion, thieves hit her business and several others along the street, going as far as to tie up employees at a bar.

She immediately thought of the Jan. 8, 1993, Brown's Chicken Massacre, when police found the tied-up bodies of the owners and five workers in its freezer after a robbery.

Kilwins, being an ice cream parlor, also has a large freezer. Jackson couldn't go back to the store, and she closed it, breaking her lease and sparking a lawsuit.

"It was a financial hardship. It was just the worst time of my life, but it was a decision that I had to make because there was no way that I would put myself or my staff at risk," she said. "I know if something would have happened to those young kids who had been working for me, I would never, ever be able to rebound from that."

That was around the same time as she opened the store in Hyde Park, in December 2011. 

Last November’s shooting was not Jackson’s first unpleasant experience in Hyde Park; Halloween hooligans scared her when they ran in and out of her store in 2016. She lost power on another Halloween.

"I'm all about safety," Jackson said, "and Kilwins is a place for enjoyment and happiness. I don't ever want to lose that reputation and get a stigma."

At the time of the shooting, Jackson had just seasonally adjusted the store's opening to 1 p.m. Had the store opened at noon, she would have been there when the gunfire happened.

As it was, she was on her way to work when someone called her with news of what had happened. Then family and friends called, scared that she had been at the store or that she had been the target. And then she flashed back to her experience in Old Town.

She gathered her employees together (who also work at her Michigan Avenue and Navy Pier stores) and told them they were going to take a break in Hyde Park.

"I really had to take some time out for me and deal with all of these traumatic things that have happened to me that I have never, ever dealt with before," she said.

Beyond the crimes perpetrated on her businesses, her childhood home had burned down. So did her apartment building at Western Michigan University; firefighters had to rescue her.

"I didn't deal with that, either," she said.

Concerned well-wishers called upon her after the shooting. One was Cook County Commissioner Bill Lowry (D-3rd), who asked if she had ever thought about therapy. She said she needed it, and he put her in touch with one.

Jackson had had one prior experience with a mental health professional years before that did not go well, but this one was a match. Her therapist listened to her and encouraged her to process all that had happened by thinking about the things that were within her power to change.

She began to not live in fear, focusing on "serenity, tranquility, things to keep me calm and things I should not be doing." She took Citizen, the controversial mobile app that sends location-specific safety alerts, off her phone. She set aside an uncluttered place in her home, which has several ongoing construction projects, where she could find peace and quiet.

The Hyde Park Kilwins is "not really" profitable: while it doesn't lose money, Jackson has never collected a paycheck from it. But she keeps it open for the community and neighborhood.

"They love Kilwins, and I love being here," she said.

When 53rd Street's revitalization campaign was going into swing in 2010, Jackson was one of the first entrepreneurs to invest in the corridor. She was there before her neighbors, the Harper Theater and the Hyatt Place hotel.

"It was just me, and I'm very proud of that. And for me to give up on a community would also be very devastating," she said. Hyde Park customers aren't transactional: she knows them and their orders, which isn't the case at her shops in the tourist areas.

She is remodeling her Hyde Park store, which Kilwins corporate requires every 10 years, and has renewed its lease with the University of Chicago. She is also applying for a Chicago Recovery Grant. Chaos in the supply chain has slowed her reopening plans, but she is trying to reopen by Memorial Day.

Jackson is going to therapy once every 90 days. "I have a new approach to life, just like she taught me with the therapy. I have to do things for me. I have to fill my cup, and part of filling my cup is reopening Hyde Park."

(1) comment


Thanks for the information and will look forward to the reopening.

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