Oprah Brought Chicago Jobs, Development And Pride After 25 years on the air, Oprah Winfrey, the queen of daytime television, brings her show to an end Wednesday. Chicago will miss its iconic talk show host; Winfrey brought the city plenty of attention — and money — over the years.
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Oprah Brought Chicago Jobs, Development And Pride

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Oprah Brought Chicago Jobs, Development And Pride

Oprah Brought Chicago Jobs, Development And Pride

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After a quarter of a century on the air, the queen of daytime television brings her show to an end tomorrow. The departure of Oprah Winfrey is a bittersweet moment for Chicago. Winfrey brought the city lots of attention, cache and economic development. NPR's Cheryl Corley has this report on how Oprah changed Chicago.

CHERYL CORLEY: Oprah Winfrey's Harpo Studios is a landmark in Chicago's West Loop. The facility takes up a full block in a neighborhood of loft condos, restaurants, art galleries and the remnants of a Chicago market district - the food processors and manufacturers. Harpo opened in 1990.

Professor PHIL ASHTON (University of Illinois Chicago): It introduced a population of employees and of consumers who were there on a day-by-day basis.

CORLEY: University of Illinois Chicago urban planning Professor Phil Ashton says the area had been on the decline for years and Harpo was a cornerstone of its revival.

Ina's Restaurant, a hangout for Harpo executives, is part of that revival too. Chef and owner Ina Pinkney says she knows full well the before and after Oprah effect. Pinkney says before she moved her restaurant into the West Loop, she used to buy produce in the area.

Ms. INA PINKNEY (Chef, Owner, Ina's Restaurant): I remember the neighborhood has being incredibly rough. It was just a place you came to buy your stuff and go home.

CORLEY: But after Oprah Winfrey built Harpo, Pinkney says the neighborhood underwent this slow metamorphosis.

Ms. PINKNEY: She began to buy up some buildings right around the neighborhood and she began to stake a claim and said I'm here and everything is going to change. She never had to say those words but it certainly meant something. Once her show went syndicated, my God, it was amazing because we had people coming to the neighborhood.

CORLEY: Hundreds of employees - between 300 to 500 at Harpo - and crowds of audience members - more than a million over the 25 years of the show - as Oprah Winfrey became a media mogul and international superstar. This month, the Oprah crowds have come out in full force. More than 20,000 fans from across the country showed up for the tapings of two of the last Oprah shows.

(Soundbite of crosstalk)

CORLEY: All the jostling and hustling this day took place not at Harpo but at the United Center, the sports arena that basketball star Michael Jordan made famous, but now it was Oprah time as people clicked photos to mark the moment.

Unidentified Woman: Say Oprah.

CROWD: Oprah.

CORLEY: There were some men in this mostly female crowd, like Wade Childress of Chicago.

Mr. WADE CHILDRESS: She's put this place on the map probably more so than any other individual celebrity - well, OK, Barack maybe. But she's done it over a longer period of time and reinforced it over and over again like nobody could.

CORLEY: Shortly after Oprah Winfrey opened Harpo Studios in 1990, she said she would never move her production facility or her show out of the city. Earlier this month, as she was inducted in the Illinois Broadcasters Association's Hall of Fame, she recalled coming into Chicago to audition for what was then a local talk show in 1983.

Ms. OPRAH WINFREY (Talk Show Host): On my way to the audition, just loving the vibe of the city so much that I felt if I don't get the job, I've got to find a way to get back here. And I literally thought if I don't get the job, maybe I'll move to advertising.

CORLEY: But Oprah got the job and created a media empire, becoming a global brand headquartered in Chicago, and an appreciative Chicago has been saying thanks as Oprah closes down her show.

Mr. RICHARD DALEY (Former Chicago Mayor): Now I give you Oprah Winfrey Way.

CORLEY: That's Chicago's former Mayor Richard Daley, who during his last days of tenure stood outside the Harpo Studios to present Oprah Winfrey with an honorary street sign.

Mr. DALEY: She's been a great ambassador for our city. It makes me very, very proud to have your name appear on one of Chicago's city streets.

(Soundbite of applause)

Ms. WINFREY: That's better than an Oscar or an Emmy.

CORLEY: Then the woman who's won plenty of Emmys lifted her Chicago street sign high.

Ms. WINFREY: This place is my Tara. Scarlet O'Hara should have known about Chicago.

CORLEY: But Oprah too is soon to be gone with the wind. Her show officially ends tomorrow. Though Harpo Studios will continue to be busy - Rosie O'Donnell will tape a one-hour daytime talk show here, set to launch in the fall on the Oprah Winfrey Network.

Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago.

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