With almost eleven years of historical data and more than one currently active license for every five City residents, Business Licenses is one of the most popular datasets on the Chicago Open Data Portal and a key resource for understanding economic activity.  However, a known limitation has been that the License Code and License Description sometimes do not make it clear what the business actually does.

We have now been able to go deeper into the system the Department of Business Affairs & Consumer Protection uses to manage the tens of thousands of licenses issued or renewed every year to add Business Activities (and corresponding Business Activity IDs useful for quick filtering) to many license records.  For example, the “Limited Business License” that makes up almost 40 percent of active licenses is, admittedly, not terribly descriptive.  With the new Business Activities field, one can distinguish Hair Services, Tax Preparation, Car Washes, and the many other types of business activity that are recognizable to most people potentially shopping at these businesses.

It is important to note that some business licenses cover more than one type of Business Activity.  In these cases, all available activities (and, again, corresponding codes) are listed in the columns, separated by the “pipe” character (|).

With the addition of this more-specific information on business activities of each license, we have removed addresses from some licenses where that information might unreasonably compromise privacy, currently fewer than 0.05 percent of all license records.

As a reminder of a longstanding feature that might be overlooked, the most useful records for many purposes are the currently active licenses (as opposed to expired ones). A filtered list of just these licenses is available as both a table and a map.

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