New North Ave. grocer answers neighbors' complaints

? OP residents living near a small North Avenue grocery are not happy with their new neighbor. Store owner says he's addressing their concerns.

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By JOHN YOO

Some Oak Park residents say Fresh Market, 5209 W. North Ave., is smellier and louder than a neighbor should be.

John Rennau, a resident, wrote in an email to WEDNESDAY JOURNAL that the store is overloading its garbage containers with trash, creating stench and causing food products to flow over.

He also complained that the store does not provide enough parking for its roughly 60 employees, leaving some to park in the residential neighborhood.

Neighbors will hold an informal meeting Saturday to discuss asking the village to make streets near Fresh Market resident-only permit parking.

In addition, he complained about delivery trucks holding up a nearby alleyway as they unload products in the morning.

"This morning a semi had our street totally blocked off for 15 minutes while he waited for his turn to make a delivery," Rennau wrote.

However, the store is not completely unaware of such problems.

"We just opened for business 9 days ago and we are trying our best to address the issues at hand," said George Dernis, the owner of the store.

He also owns two other small groceries in Chicagoland.

Regarding garbage, Dernis said he has greatly improved the sanitation around the store since he received complaints.

Loretta Daly, business development manager for the Village of Oak Park, said garbage issues can be serious but did not notice any problems when she visited the store last week.

However, Mike Charley, of the Oak Park Health Department, said a sanitarian sent to the store to investigate noticed problems Monday. The sanitarian issued a violation notice, a way to warn a business of a violation without making a citation.

"We'll continue to observe and see how they do, but we want to work with both the residents and the business partners. That's why we start with education, not enforcement," Charley said.

Dernis said the store will cooperate with the village and create more parking spaces for its employees as well as free up space for the delivery trucks to unload merchandise.

"We doubled our budget to satisfy the neighbors," he said.

Daly,who has visited the store twice this week, said the village will also work with the store in an attempt to find additional parking for its staff. She suggested that the store's parking lot might also be re-striped to accommodate more cars.

To one neighbor who complained about loud noises coming from the store, Dernis offered to install soundproof windows for his house.

Rennau also complained in the email that the trash compactor machine is often left running and unattended, creating a potential hazard.

In response, Dernis said safety should not be a great concern because the compactor is equipped with safety features and can only be turned on with a key by trained personnel.

In general, Dernis said he is very sympathetic to the needs of the residents but is also hoping for some patience and forgiveness on the part of Oak Park residents.

"If you invest half a million dollars and don't get much neighborhood support, you will be disappointed...but I want to assure the residents that we are doing our best and will continue to offer great products and prices," he said.

Some residents, such as John Moline, are aware of the problems but remain confident that the problems will be resolved in the near future.

"Honestly, I am very optimistic about the village's commitment and willingness to take the steps to resolve the problem," he said.

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