By Lauren Victory

CHICAGO (CBS) — Just as the coronavirus spread, so did the entrepreneurial spirit at a hip Bronzeville marketplace.

Pre-pandemic, four shops were open at Boxville. Now, that number has more than doubled to nine.

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CBS 2’s Lauren Victory took us inside for this Monday morning report.

Ian Gonzalez has no time for wrinkles. He is going full steam ahead with Last Lap Cornerstore, the running apparel shop he started while COVID-19 was surging.

“I was sitting at home, watching an unnecessary amount of Netflix – and it just kind of came to me, like this is the destination that running has brought you to,” Gonzalez said.

That destination is inside a shipping container on 51st Street and Calumet Avenue just outside the CTA Green Line station at 51st Street. The unique marketplace called Boxville opened in 2014.

“Foot traffic has definitely been down,” said Sandria Washington, Director of Engagement and Partnerships for Build Bronzeville.

In spite of that, Boxville organizers from Build Bronzeville explained the pandemic was not as big a threat there as compared to elsewhere. Consider the low rent and tiny footprints.

“You have walk-up access,” Washington said. “You have grab-and-go, delivery.”

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Synergy Foods sales took a dip for while, but eventually kicked in online.

“Business has been moving and grooving, and the weather is starting to break, so expecting some big sales soon,” said Synergy Foods manager Marcus Stewart.

At Synergy, eight kinds of candied apples are already designed for carry-out only – so the owners didn’t have to pivot like other food services did.

“Just grateful overall that we could still stay open,” Stewart said.

Moving forward, expect Boxville to be home to art installations and summertime events – thanks in part to a recent $75,000 grant from Nike.

“I’ve had some really good feedback about being here,” Gonzalez said.

Next up for Gonzalez is adding to the inventory, because his customer base is growing.

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When things really get back to normal, the plan is to expand Boxville. CBS 2 will keep you posted on developments.

Lauren Victory