Selling Popcorn, Against the Odds: Gloria Henderson opens up shop in Hyde Park

Gloria Henderson, proprietor of Glorious Confectionary Lenoir (Sujatha Venkataramani)

As the Beltway Snipers terrorized the Washington, D.C. area, randomly targeting citizens in October 2002, Gloria Henderson insisted on taking the bus every morning to culinary school. Even as public officials warned against exposed travel in the early mornings and late at night, Henderson stood at an unsheltered bus stop, sneaking out of the house early to avoid burdening relatives who offered to drive her across town. She recalls distracting herself with thoughts of opening her own business, an ambitious goal after a recent accident disabled her for life. Yet, as one would learn from Henderson today, her resilience and patience has paid off. Just two months ago, she opened Glorious Confectionary Lenoir, a popcorn shop in Hyde Park.

Glorious Confectionary Lenoir is the final incarnation of a business idea Henderson had following an injury in 2001. After falling under the weight of a patient, Henderson cracked her spine, leaving her with a sustained disability. Unable to work, Henderson became a recipient of disability payments, and eventually enrolled in “Ticket to Work,” a business empowerment program for the disabled. Through this program, she received a grant to attend culinary school, which she proposed as a component of her business plan to open a novelty chocolate business. “Ticket to Work” administrators suggested that Henderson adjust her business plan, encouraging her to select a successful model already executed by other beneficiaries of the program. With this in mind, Henderson instead decided to make popcorn.

The story of Henderson’s business is as involved and unbelievable as the string of disabilities she suffered following her first accident in 2001. Just a couple of years later, she shattered her foot, tearing a tendon in her ankle, while walking to her car from James Ward Elementary School on the South Side of Chicago. Henderson’s foot got stuck in a hole in the sidewalk, a mistaken oversight of the city’s 50/50 Sidewalk Repair Program. Her injury cost $160,000 in treatment, for which she sued the Board of Education and the city of Chicago. Henderson attributes her victory to a single person: “I had a very good lawyer.” And while the technicalities of the trial seemed complicated in the end, she cites municipal negligence and jurors’ sympathy as the primary forces contributing to the order that the city compensate her with more than what she originally requested.

After her recovery and legal settlement with the city of Chicago, Henderson picked up where she left off, identifying a new site for her popcorn shop. Forced out of her previous location in Kenwood to make room for the Little Black Pearl arts space, Henderson looked for some time before finding her present location underneath the Metra station on East Hyde Park Boulevard. She reminisces about scouting the site in 1997 when she first moved to Hyde Park, noticing its convenient location and proximity to the local high school. Unfortunately, she’s noticed, “the kids don’t care for popcorn, but the people in the neighborhood do.” Recent patronage comes from rush hour commuters and neighborhood residents, luring most customers in by its sparse decor and festive, dancing Santa Claus in the storefront window. But despite the slow business, Henderson remains confident business will pick up in the coming months: “Yeah, I’m hurting. But I refuse to give up. I refused to give up in D.C. And I certainly won’t now!”

Glorious Confectionary Lenoir, 1551 E. Hyde Park Blvd. Monday-Saturday, noon-5pm. (773)954-6534. Cash only.