Sales tax driving people away from Cook County

Economists have said the soft economy has many poor families struggling to make ends meet and now with a hike in the local sales tax, tourists and residents said they will now look outside of Cook County for shopping opportunities.

“I knew Chicago was expensive, but this is beginning to be a bit too much,” said Sheryl Patterson, 45, visiting the city from Detroit. “I came to Chicago for the Fourth of July holiday to attend the Taste of Chicago with relatives. This is something I do every year, but now I think I may attend the Summer Fest in Milwaukee instead because it’s a lot cheaper there.” On July 1, the sales tax in Cook County increased to 1.75 percent from 0.75 percent, pushing Chicago’s overall sales tax to 10.25 percent from 9.25 percent, and making it the highest of any major U.S. city. Other big cities pay much less in taxes. In New York City, residents pay 8.4 percent in sales tax, and in Los Angeles, they pay 8.25 percent. The county’s sales tax hike applies to furniture, appliances and alcohol and restaurants. Dining will now cost more. Sean Howard, communications director for the county’s John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital on the West Side, said without the sales tax increase, services at the hospital and other county health facilities would have been cut. He added that the tax increase allows the county to maintain these services, which are mainly used by the poor. But for residents who do not use county health facilities, the sales tax spike is upsetting and has them driving to nearby Indiana to make large purchases. “Let’s just say stores in Indiana will soon see a lot of Illinois license plates in their parking lots, namely mine,” said Michael Barber, 48, a Chicago resident. “Politicians should have looked at the big picture before voting to raise the sales tax. They should have looked at rising prices for gas, cigarettes, food and housing.” Mattie Hunter, 53, a single mom of four, said she recently took on a second job to make ends meet and plans to relocate outside Cook County by year-end. “I can’t keep doing this: Robbing Peter to pay Paul. Something has to give, and I am afraid this time it will be me,” she said. “I cannot and will not keep selling my kids short on food and clothing just to keep living in Chicago.” Small, Black business owners said they are afraid this could all have a ripple effect. “If people start going to Indiana to shop, then that means I will not make as much money. And if I am not making enough money to turn a profit, I will have to shut down or move my business to Indiana,” said Mary Roders, 56, who owns a purse shop in the South Shore community. “I have two employees who need their jobs to take care of their families, but if I have to, I will let them go. Not because I want to but because I was taxed out of the box.” But laying off employees to stay afloat is the least of Julie Massey’s concern. Massey, 49, is a women’s boutique owner on the North Side. “My biggest concern is my business, which has been operational for the last five years,” she said. “Black businesses have a short life span, and my greatest concern is that established, small Black businesses may have to end their era because customers were pushed away due to taxes.”

Wendell Hutson can be reached via e-mail at

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