This is one in a series of articles focusing on small businesses and entrepreneurs in the South Loop.
"I remember ten years ago when there were no banks, restaurants, or dry cleaners."
So says Jeffrey (Jeff) A. Key, an early "urban pioneer" in the South Loop. Like many people who moved here in the late 1990s, Key realized that the South Loop had the potential to be a truly vibrant neighborhood. With its proximity to public transportation, major highways, cultural points of interest, the South Loop is living up to the potential Key saw a decade ago.
A native of Cleveland, OH, Key graduated from Cleveland-Marshall law school and was managing editor of the Law Review there. In Chicago, Key started a business as a discovery consultant and represents one of the largest sporting goods companies in the world.
The first thing Key did when he settled in the South Loop was get involved with the local community. This involvement developed into his helping establish the Greater South Loop Community Association (GSLA), and serving as board president. He's no longer the GSLA president, but has been a board member since his presidency ended in 2004. Key's founding of the Bash on Wabash, the South Loop's annual festival, may be his most enduring legacy to the neighborhood. This year's Bash is September 5-6.
One of Key's passions is education in the area of business entrepreneurship. In his career, Key has come in contact with many successful and not so successful entrepreneurs. He observed and chronicled what made some people succeed and some fail. This interest led Key to join the Entrepreneurial Learning Initiative Foundation (ELIF) as its Deputy Director. The ELIF has developed curriculum that can be used in high schools across the country. Instead of using text books, students hear from real entrepreneurs in person and via the web.
It's hard to believe that when Key moved to the South Loop there were no dry cleaners. Today it seems we have one on almost every corner. Key believes that for the South Loop to continue to thrive, people have to "remain open to change." He noted, that without willingness to change, the South Loop, and the city in general, could end up like Cleveland or Detroit. Both cities have enormous potential, but have been "riding the down escalator for decades."