Oak Park, Austin residents stay united against EZ Pawn

Residents won't back down against alderman

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By Katie Kather

Residents of Austin, Galewood and suburban Oak Park aren't giving up in their fight to keep a new pawn shop off North Avenue even as the battle stretches into its second year.

A crowd gathered Tuesday night at Redeemer Church, 6740 W. North Ave., to discuss the latest move – a lawsuit filed against EZ Pawn this spring after the city's Zoning Board of Appeals voted to approve EZ Pawn. The pawn shop would be the 5th of its kind in the area.

Attorney Larry Andolino, a Galewood resident, is representing the community pro bono in the lawsuit that seeks to overturn the special use zoning permit that would allow EZ Pawn to operate.

"We've got a good fight. We're on the right side; win or lose, we win because we're standing up and sending a message," he told the crowd, which included Oak Park village trustees.

Ald. Deborah Graham (29th) addressed the crowd after one resident stood up and accused her of taking $2,100 from Reyes-Kurson, the law firm representing EZ Pawn.

"I did accept that from them," Graham responded.

The money was supposed to cover meeting costs, said long-time community activist and resident Donald Glover. The area in question for the pawn shop will become part of Graham's ward after the new aldermanic map takes effect in 2015.

It is currently in Ald. Nicholas Sposato's (36th) ward, and he turned down EZ Pawn's initial request for the North Avenue location.

Some Galewood residents expressed frustration about having to work with two different aldermen.

"All the zoning goes by the 2015 map, so there's all this B.S. we have to go through between two aldermen," said Galewood resident Bill Smiljanich.

Graham responded by saying: "It's not my desire to be on the opposite side of the community, but vacancies aren't good for the community either."

The storefront EZ Pawn would move into has been vacant for at least two years, according to residents.

Glover said the community doesn't need another pawn shop and is concerned about safety and good businesses moving out if EZ Pawn moves in. EZ Pawn would be the fifth pawn shop on the stretch of North Avenue near Ridgeland and Hayes avenues.

But mostly, Glover is upset with how he said Graham handled the situation.

"First of all, it's the way she did it and lied to the community," he said. "She just didn't figure this community would stand up."

And if the lawsuit to overturn the special use permit doesn't work?

"We won't stop. We're used to fighting, unfortunately. There's other things we'd like to do, but this is how it is," Glover said.

Another way the communities are moving forward is by launching the North Avenue Zoning and Development Advisory Committee to represent residents from Austin Boulevard to Harlem Avenue.

Judith Alexander, who co-founded the North Avenue Neighbors Association of Oak Park, said there are two primary reasons for the committee: to stop negative uses of property on North Avenue and work toward attracting businesses the residents would like to see.

The committee would be separate from but work closely with the North Avenue Neighbors Association, and it would be the first of its kind to join Oak Park and Chicago residents in the interests of North Avenue.

While she admitted it's too late for the committee to help stop EZ Pawn, Alexander said the decision to form the committee is a direct result of the situation.

So far, the committee has enlisted residents with backgrounds in zoning law, architecture, public projects, local government and real estate. They are looking for more members with backgrounds in commercial real estate development and leasing. Their first meeting is scheduled in August, with the date to be determined.

Graham announced her own community meeting for Aug. 14 at 6:30 p.m. at a location yet to be determined.

When contacted after Tuesday's meeting, the law firm representing EZ Pawn provided a written statement that stated: "We place stores where we believe we have a good fit within the community, we see solid market demand, and we meet all the standards for approval in the permitting process.

"As to the Easy Cash Solutions that will open on North Avenue, the Zoning Board of Appeals determined that the proposal met all special use permit standards, and the store opening and operation will conform to all applicable regulations. Easy Cash Solutions will be compatible with surrounding commercial uses, and the shop will occupy tenant space that had been vacant for many years."

Reader Comments

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Neighbor from Oak Park  

Posted: August 7th, 2013 2:29 PM

Uncommon Sense. It's not what you said, but how you said it. Was "liquor sto'" and "Revrund", etc. and a disrespecting stereotype necessary to make your point? Although I don't disgaree with you completely, your language offended and embarrassed me.

Uncommon Sense  

Posted: August 7th, 2013 1:53 PM

NFO, you are delusional if you don't think those other businesses won't follow. Just take a nice little Sunday drive east on North Avenue, Division, or Chicago Ave. I left off the t-shirt/cell phone store. Sure one of those will open too. Go ahead and keep your head in the sand. There is a reason most communities that aren't cesspools don't want these businesses to open. Never heard a Realtor selling a pawnshop in walking distance as an amenity to homebuyers.

Neighbor from Oak Park  

Posted: August 7th, 2013 1:30 PM

Uncommon Sense, that was plain ignorant.

Neighbor from Oak Park  

Posted: August 7th, 2013 1:07 PM

Jim, I would place myself to the left of liberalism, but I think CrucialTalk from RF has a point worth serious consideration. Some of us think we know how to solve this complicated social issue, but no one does at least until the economy improves drastically. Like you, I want to know why in the hell it cost Graham $2,100 to hold a public meeting!

CrucialTalk from River Forest  

Posted: August 7th, 2013 12:28 PM

That is one stereotype validated. I produce a reasoned argument and the liberal response is name-calling. You just can't make this stuff up. Nonsense to you too.

Uncommon Sense  

Posted: August 7th, 2013 11:14 AM

Once EZ pawn opens up, next will be a check cashing store. Then to make the trifecta complete, they will throw in a liquor sto'. After all people need somewhere to get groceries. Then I think the bail bondsman will fit right in next to the pool hall. Then to cap it all off, we will get a Revrund to open a store front church. Economic development at its finest.

Pawn Stars from Oak Park  

Posted: August 7th, 2013 10:55 AM

Why not just name the store EZ Crime? Roosevelt Road is another pawn shop magnet. This turns off prospective homebuyers from the area. It screams "We have lots of crime here." It is a dreadful symbol of what can happen when a poor community and an affluent one exist side by side. Is this really the message we want to broadcast to the rest of the world?

Jim Coughlin from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: August 7th, 2013 10:20 AM

That's a bunch of nonsense.

CrucialTalk from River Forest  

Posted: August 6th, 2013 8:37 PM

What does it say if about our community if the only thriving businesses are pawn shops? It says our economic policies are failing. We desperately need to lift all citizens to the highest possible level of success. Instead we institute welfare programs, regulations, business-type restrictions, censorship and other progressive policies that doom the poor to failure and reliance. Then once we have doomed them, we deny them the few types of businesses that now serve them. God forgive us.

CrucialTalk from River Forest  

Posted: August 6th, 2013 8:32 PM

Jim - I agree with Typical that it is dangerous to post conservative thought in Oak Park. My family and home are at risk from violent liberals. Notice that cars with Obama stickers did not get vandalized but Romney cars did. Second, the racism is in not allowing EZ Pawn into town. If EZ pawn did not think they could run a business they would not be applying for a business license in the Austin neighborhood. Who are they serving? The Austin neighborhood.

Jim Coughlin from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: August 6th, 2013 6:31 PM

Why did it cost $2,100 to cover the expenses relating to a public meeting conducted by Ald. Graham? Isn't she provided with funds by the city for purposes connected with activities in her ward? How exactly was the money spent? If she is unable or unwilling to provide financial documents detailing the expenditure, she needs to recuse herself from the decision making process. The fact that the law firm representing the interests of EZ Pawn donated this money directly to her should raise a red flag. Was the contribution unsolicited?

OP   

Posted: August 6th, 2013 11:45 AM

Stop this ASAP!!! We should have a medical marijuana dispensery instead. That was Oak Parkers' Austin and everyone cant smoke it out! I am preping the letter now (and my visit to doctor :-))

Typical  

Posted: August 6th, 2013 1:01 AM

The argument is the argument, and regardless of the name, it either discusses the problems or it doesn't. Just because someone puts their name on here doesn't mean they're right or wrong, it just means that the public know their name, and can find out where they live etc... In this day, I can come to realize that nothing good can come of posting your name on the internet... but if I'm talking to someone in person, I will not hold back on my views either.

Typical  

Posted: August 6th, 2013 12:58 AM

find the conversation or associations uncomfortable. As for providing an identity, I remember a lady that posted a few years ago using her name. She talked about similar issues addressing problems in the community and called people out etc... soon after her home was vandalized with anti-concervative slogans. I'm not willing to put my children through something like that just cause someone has the need to me to post my name. I can still get my point across like this. Cont...

Typical  

Posted: August 6th, 2013 12:51 AM

Jim, I'm quite familiar with Oak Park's past, the forces that changed it, the village strategies to integrate not segregate (interestingly enough one being "mixing" income housing), the bigots etc... You seem to hold onto that stuff in a way that makes you assume I'm talking in code, when I'm not. I'm not a 1960s Realtor going blockbusting, and have no similar intent. But I'm not going to sit around and pussyfoot over serious issues facing the community just because some people cont...

Grey  

Posted: August 5th, 2013 11:13 PM

Coughlin brings race into this. Thats is the only norm we we know. No one has mentioned race EXCEPT YOU JC. Stop it and grow up

Jim Coughlin from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: August 5th, 2013 9:59 PM

I don't know if you intended to make a comment that could be interpreted as being racist. Maybe I ,rightly or wrongly,viewed such language as code. It has not my experience to have encountered "too many Oak Parkers" who react at "the slightest hint of race". We must travel in different circles. I've lived in the Village since 1967 and remember the ignorant and harmful panic that spread when diversirty and integration became a reality. Families we knew moved out and never looked back. Some warned my parents that the community was changing for the worse. The bigots were wrong. For now, there seems to be an attempt to disparage people who recognize that any form of discrimination is still a plague on society and falsely accuse them of playing the race card. Whatever that means. I do understand that police figures indicate more young black men are being subjected to New York's stop and frisk laws than the total number of young black men who live the city. That's a lazy and ineffective way to combat urban crime. Let's agree that there still is a reason to fight for equality for minority populations, gay people and all others who have been made to feel like outsiders in their hometown and this country. It's your decision to post with that screen tag but offer that personally taking the heat for expressng your views makes sense if you truly believe in what you say.

Typical  

Posted: August 5th, 2013 9:07 PM

Whether people know who I am or not is neither here nor there, as the critique is the point. I've met too many Oak Parkers that will call "racism" anytime there's the slightest hint of race being assumed, and then they get judgmental and defensive. Point already proven. It's no wonder why an honest look at the problems here is not possible, because too many are hyper sensitive and already have it in their minds that if you somehow don't agree with section 8 or pawn stores, you must hate blacks.

Typical  

Posted: August 5th, 2013 9:00 PM

Where's the racism, Jim? Pawn stores, section 8 and wig stores all cater to both blacks, Latinos and whites. Maybe you need to consider your own association to these projects and businesses before judging others on assumptions. I brought them up because they add either social problems (section 8), cater to criminals (pawn stores) or add a blighted feeling (wig stores). I brought it up as a "motto" because the village blindly supports this stuff, but will put their foot down when it suits them.

Jim Coughlin from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: August 5th, 2013 7:07 PM

I am not discounting the research you cite but have not read the results of such studies. Neighbors do have legit concerns and those need to be thoughtfully addressed. There is a underlying element of racism in the "new motto" you offered that is both unacceptable and unfortunate. There are those who will post some really nasty and ignorant comments on this forum while hiding behind an odd screen name The forum moderator is doing a better job at deleting truly offensive posts but I wonder why people would not be willing to let their family, friends and neighbors know that they harbor such ill will and hateful thoughts towards others. You may catch a lot of heat and unwanted attention but will at least be true to yourself.

Typical   

Posted: August 5th, 2013 3:46 PM

Jim, There have been studies showing that a concentration of pawn stores in a single area lowers the overall quality of the street and increases criminal activity. I'm not sure how you can discount that research. I guess the new motto is "pawn stores, concentrated section 8 housing and wig stores had value to hood"? The decisions to allow these types of businesses and development in the area are the decisions that are going to drive these areas to the dump.

Uncommon Sense  

Posted: August 5th, 2013 2:26 PM

The last thing North Avenue needs is yet another pawn shop. I'm a capitalist pig through and through, but at some point, you do have to step in and put up some boundaries. I'm sure a strip club would do well too, but that doesn't mean it is right for the community at large. These business feed off each other and the community and the next thing you know you have ridgeland/north avenue looking like that stretch to the east around Central.

Jim Coughlin from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: August 5th, 2013 2:08 PM

The daily operations of pawnshops in Las Vegas, Detroit and Chicago are the subject of tv reality shows. i think that too much of it is staged for the cameras but there's little evidence that pawn shops are hubs for criminal activity. Now if you talking about scrap metal salvage yards; I would agree.

Really  

Posted: August 5th, 2013 1:45 PM

Pawn Shops are used by criminals to PAWN their stolen items.

King John IV  

Posted: August 5th, 2013 1:32 PM

What a bunch of busybodies. If the residents lose, will they repay the landlord of the now-empty building the lost rent (or re-pay the rent the EZ Pawn had to pay, if that is the agreement) while not being open for business? Residents want to see the kind of business that they want to see. But it is private property, and while I sympathize with their wanting something else, it sounds like whining. Rent the building yourselves and run a business, residents, if you think you can do better.

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