Pawnshops contribute to North Avenue retail seediness

Opinion

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Our thanks to Bill Dwyer and Wednesday Journal for covering the issue of pawnshops on North Avenue in Northeast Oak Park, and for doing so in a fair and balanced way [North Ave. neighbors decry pawnshops, Aug. 31]. We especially appreciated learning that unregulated secondhand stores may be selling items stolen in Oak Park. We're ready to support efforts to close what Oak Park Detective Byrne calls "a huge loophole."

But we would like to take issue with the implication that the pawnshops have nothing to do with crime in Northeast Oak Park. Several people quoted in the article stressed that Oak Park's pawnshops are tightly regulated and quite unlikely to be selling items stolen here. While this may well be the case, it does not follow that these pawnshops are not a problem.

Like payday loan operations, Oak Park's three pawnshops significantly contribute to what Mr. Dwyer quite correctly described as "the shoddy condition of commerce along North Avenue." Between Austin Boulevard and Oak Park Avenue, the south side of North Avenue generally looks shabby and neglected. It's pretty well established that neglected areas tend to invite crime because it looks like no one's watching and no one cares what happens there. Northeast Oak Park has a crime problem partly because it's adjacent to a neglected, shabby stretch of North Avenue filled with businesses that do not serve the citizens of Oak Park. (There are many exceptions to this, of course, including the beautiful bank branch at North and Austin and Barnard's Schwinn.)

East of Oak Park Avenue, North Avenue looks unattractive and unsafe, partly because of the pawnshops and payday loan operations. This atmosphere of neglect discourages Oak Parkers and others driving east on North Avenue from stopping to patronize retail establishments there.

Landlord Richard Blaurock is wrong to say he's only serving what market exists on east North Avenue. By renting to pawn and payday loan shops, he's helped to create an atmosphere where Oak Parkers are afraid to shop and businesses that serve Oak Parkers are discouraged from operating. By the way, I'm sure the residents of Galewood and Austin also would prefer to do business on a North Avenue that is clean, attractive and safe.

The pawnshops and payday loan operations are not serving the citizens of Oak Park, as Mr. Blaurock freely admits in the article. Daryl Babuk, a North Avenue Business Association board member, points out that rents are cheaper in Chicago. So what are these businesses doing here? It seems highly probable that they are here because they are safer here than they would be in Chicago. In short, they are here because the Oak Park police are terrific. Our police are so good that the crime in Oak Park is much less than one might expect, given our location. They're so good that Oak Park's pawnshops and payday loan operations no doubt pay much lower insurance rates than they would in Chicago.

Pawnshops and payday loan outfits are prime targets for robbery. Oak Park taxpayers are footing the bill for all the police protection and monitoring that pawnshops require. We are paying to protect businesses that do not serve our community. We are paying to protect businesses that contribute to an atmosphere that invites crime. We are paying to protect businesses that depress property values. No wonder the village will no longer issue licenses for new pawnshops. They're not good for anybody, not even their landlords, because they help to create a low-rent retail environment.

Now that the village has made sure that no new pawnshops will open in Oak Park, it is time to take a pro-active approach and eliminate the three that are still operating here, one by one. Let's start with the one whose lease is up this year. Let's help the landlord find a tenant who actually will serve Oak Park residents. Let's cover any differential in rental payments that the landlord may suffer. And let's help businesses like Purple Monkey locate on North Avenue and start turning around the most neglected retail area in Oak Park.

Judith Alexander and Joe Graber, Mickey Michaels, Linda Sktika, Lydia Swangren and Kurt Schultz
Oak Park

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