About 80 people crowded into the Irving School auditorium last week, curious about a gun store opening in Oak Park, but they kept the safety lock on hostility toward the idea.
The South East Oak Park Community Organization sponsored the Nov. 29 forum, after Wednesday Journal first reported plans for a gun store on Roosevelt Road in October. Berwyn resident Justin Delafuente, 27, applied back in July to open Windy City Firearms at 6338 W. Roosevelt Rd. There he plans to sell rifles, shotguns and other related equipment.
The panel included Delafuente, along with Police Chief Rick Tanksley, acting Village Attorney Simone Boutet and Paul Zimmermann, president of the Roosevelt Road Business Association. Questions ranged from how much security the store will have, to why Delafuente picked Oak Park.
"That's where we've owned our building for 25 years, is the simple reason why," said Delafuente, who works for Bull Sharpening right next door. That longtime business is owned by his stepfather. "There was no regulation saying that I couldn't open at all."
Delafuente said he hoped to open this week. The owners don't plan to keep any inventory in the shop. Rather, customers can order items in the store or on their website. Items would then be shipped to the shop within a day or two for pickup. The store will also sell handguns to people who work in law enforcement, along with other gun-related items such as holsters, safes and racks.
Windy City Firearms will have a security system and steel door, but Chief Tanksley asked the owner not to get too specific about how he'd protect his business.
"There's certain things that perhaps we shouldn't talk about," Tanksley said. "But if you would rely upon the police department to work with Justin and make some recommendations in regards to proper security, if you could trust us with that, I will ensure that we give him the very best advice."
Delafuente said his primary customers will be law enforcement officers and hunters. If business is booming, it's possible he may transform the shop into more of a retail operation, but he would never include a shooting range in the space. He also clarified that the shop will pay sales taxes, and possibly plenty, as some of the guns will cost thousands of dollars.
Boutet said Oak Park was obligated to grant Delafuente a business license, as he has a right to open the store under the Second Amendment to the Constitution. However, it's possible that Oak Park might explore zoning regulations in the future to limit the number of gun stores. But the village needs to tread lightly, she said, as it doesn't want to subject itself to lawsuits.
Village officials stressed that they will keep a close eye on the shop to make sure Delafuente runs it properly. Oak Park hopes to open a police substation on Roosevelt in the near future, and village hall can revoke his business license if he sells to a minor or breaks any other laws.
Attendees submitted written questions for the panel but weren't allowed to comment at Tuesday's forum. Afterward, some griped about the business.
Gary Barnes, who's lived in Oak Park since 1980, questioned whether it would really be hunters buying many of Windy City's products.
"There's really no polar bears, there's no grizzly bears, there's no lions, tigers. What do they need the guns for? They're only to shoot people," he said.
Oak Parker Carol Zowaski said she was disappointed to hear that the gun store was opening in the village. She wondered why it's OK to operate the business with an elementary school and preschool right nearby.
"Why would he come here when there's a preschool blocks away? Or why would he come here when he knows Oak Park is in unity against it?" she said.
Zafar Mawani, the former president of the Roosevelt Road Business Association, said he hopes Oak Park is more proactive in foreseeing similar situations in the future. He hopes that Roosevelt doesn't become a dumping ground for other "undesirable" businesses.
"I'd like to see the village increase its commitment to Roosevelt Road to counteract some of the negative impacts of this store, whether it is police presence or active recruitment of other sorts of more desirable businesses on the street," he said.