We strongly support Alderman [Deborah] Graham's proposed ordinance limiting the geographic concentration of pawn shops. Contrary to her statement in Tim Inklebarger's story, some businesses are worse than vacancies. Any business that scares residents and positive businesses away is worse than a vacancy. Indeed, Ald. Graham [29th Ward] has tacitly acknowledged this by proposing her ordinance and helping us oppose the Behind Close Doors nightclub (which seeks a license to operate at 6206 W. North Ave. in Chicago). We appreciate her efforts in both cases.
Thank you for your editorial's kind words regarding the successful efforts of residents on either side of North Avenue, which presumably motivated Ald. Graham to propose her pawn shop ordinance. Unfortunately, the win you credit to us comes too late to help North Avenue.
Even if Ald. Graham succeeds in getting her ordinance passed (a tall order considering the money and power associated with chains like EZ Pawn), we're stuck with five pawn shops within two blocks. Once a business opens, it is very difficult to get it closed. (That's why we're working so hard to prevent Behind Close Doors from opening a nightclub in the first place.)
And what about the concentration of cash-for-gold stores, currency exchanges and payday loan shops along North Avenue between Austin and Harlem? These businesses also scare residents and positive businesses away.
We look forward to working with Ald. Graham and our Oak Park representatives to recruit the kinds of businesses to North Avenue that Galewood and Oak Park residents will gladly support: coffee shops, restaurants, and great retail stores like Barnard's Schwinn and Serrelli's Italian deli.
Recruitment of desirable businesses is good, but what we really need is an overall plan to guide such efforts, as well as zoning, traffic calming, safe crosswalks, physical improvements and so on. Despite the highest traffic counts and the most affluent demographics of any business district in the village, North Avenue is the only commercial corridor in or bordering Oak Park for which no such plan exists. (See http://www.oak-park.us/village-services/planning/business-district-plans)
Martin Noll's proposal for a new Oak Park Development Corporation states explicitly that "recruitment efforts will be guided by development plans." We fear that without a viable plan, North Avenue will continue to be ignored or that development efforts will be less than effective. We intend to work with community and government leadership on both sides of North Avenue to extend and complete the 2006 streetscape plan as a means of jump-starting the overall planning process.
We will continue working for a real win on North Avenue — a thriving commercial district that serves the needs of Galewood and Oak Park residents living nearby. We invite our North Oak Park and Galewood neighbors to join us. Send an email to email@example.com and/or to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Judith Alexander and Joe Graber,
Co-founders, North Avenue Neighbors Association of Oak Park (a member organization of the Northwest Community Coalition uniting residents of Galewood and Oak Park)