After launching the ‘Save Local’ series during the pandemic, the West Town photographer follows up with business owners 2 years later

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After launching the ‘Save Local’ series during the pandemic, the West Town photographer follows up with business owners 2 years later

WEST TOWN — A West Town photographer who created a series of portraits to encourage people to support local businesses during the pandemic is back, showing how business owners are faring in 2022.

When the COVID-19 pandemic began, West Town photographer Candice Cusick observed that businesses in the neighborhood – including her own – were forced to close.

Cusic’s primary work through her company, Candice C. Cusic Photography, 1821 W. Hubbard St., is what she calls “snapshot” portraits of people and, increasingly, their pets. These appointments were rescheduled in the first few months after the COVID-19 hit. But Cusic, a former Tribune photojournalist, felt compelled to put her skills — and her love for her longtime neighbor — to good use.

In the spring of 2020, Cusic began contacting business owners on Chicago Avenue and West Town, asking if he could photograph them in what would become his Save Local portrait series.

Before each photo shoot, Cusick spoke on the phone to business owners, asking them how they were weathering the early stages of the pandemic.

Cusick posted the photos to Instagram and Facebook and ultimately photographed over 50 small business owners in the greater West Town area. Each was accompanied by a summary of their unique challenges, concerns and fears.

“I did this not only for my own sanity to keep busy in these uncertain times, but I also wanted to keep West Town in the public eye. I want the audience to see the faces behind all those locked doors. Because if you were walking up and down Chicago Avenue at that time, no one was open,” Cusick said.

Credit: Supplied By/Candice C. Cusick Photography Beauty Bar Managing Partner Rene Romero pictured outside the bar and club in 2020 Credit: Supplied/Candice C. Cusick Photography Sarah Dulkin, Owner of Chicago Trueborn, 1741 W. Chicago Ave . Photographed in 2020

Cusic has photographed all manner of West Town business owners, including Alcala’s Western Wear, Chicago Truborn Gallery, Beauty Bar, Odge’s Restaurant and more – all for free and on his own.

By necessity, the first wave of photo shoots in 2020 were quick, often lasting only a few minutes and held outdoors to minimize the risk of spreading the virus.

“I just tried to keep it as simple as possible. It was just one camera, one lens, one light,” Cusick said. business owner with his sign in front of his business.

“So that led to a collection of very bright, very colorful, very impactful photos, with lots of reflections in the windows.”

Now, more than two years later, Cusick’s photography business is back in full swing, he said. But in the midst of his busy schedule, he decided to return to the photo series, relaunching it on social media under the title Save Local Business: Two years later.

So far, Cusic has returned with around 30 people pictured in 2020 and done a second shoot with them.

Cusic posts each new photo online alongside its 2020 counterpart, reflecting each company’s ups and downs over the past two years.

“It’s a lot of work, but I think I wanted to see a happy ending. I really wanted to reconnect with all those beautiful faces, and now we’re all really busy because we’re all working. So I wanted to see how people work and how the community supports them,” Cusick said.

This series of photo shoots were more intensive, with additional lighting, color gels and calculated shot composition, Cusic said. Cusick can now step into the business to document the owners in action.

“We definitely take more than five minutes and really try to create something dramatic, that has synergy on every level,” he said.

Credit: Supplied By/Candice C. Cusick Photography Rene Romero, Managing Partner of Cusick Photography Beauty Bar, photographed inside the business in 2022 Credit: Supplied By/Candice C. Cusick Photography Sara Dulkin, owner of Chicago Trueborn in 2022.

For Richard Alcala, owner of Alcala’s Western Wear, 1733 W. Chicago Ave., the series is a great way to showcase the vitality of West Town businesses during the pandemic.

“It really makes the community more aware and more united,” said Alcala, whose family has operated a western clothing store for 50 years.

During Alcala’s two photoshoots, she was impressed with Cusick’s photography — and his interviewing skills, she said.

“He made me feel very comfortable, to be very honest with you. Even his questions, he asked me questions like we were having a conversation, right? she said. “It never felt like a interview.”

Cusick said he’d like to eventually display the series in some sort of physical format, like an exhibit in his studio or even a book.

Until then, Cusick said he was inspired by the appreciation he received from West Town businesses and fans of the show. And while there’s a lot of work to schedule and complete each shoot, Cusic says it’s creatively fulfilling — and fun.

“It’s different from filming in my studio, pets and their owners. This is a series of environmental portraits of a community close to my heart, in which I live and in which I work,” he said.

Credit: Supplied By/Candice C. Cusick Photography Candice Cusick in her studio at Hubbard Street Lofts, 1050 W. Hubbard St.

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