By Anna Lothson
Oak Park police will be examining a North Avenue smoke shop after reports from the Cook County Department of Revenue revealed the store has been selling cigarettes from outside Cook County and not paying the county's taxes on them.
The shop in question, Smoker's Stop (formerly Tobacco and More) at 6319 North Ave., has been cited by the county repeatedly for evading Cook County taxes by selling cigarettes purchased from places where taxes are cheaper.
Oak Park resident Judith Alexander and her husband Joe Graber, co-founders of North Avenue Neighbors Association of Oak Park, sent an email Thursday updating the group about the matter. The note followed a neighborhood meeting Tuesday where Oak Park Police Chief Rick Tanksley met with neighbors about their concerns.
According to the email, Smoker's Stop is open 24-hours, seven-days-a-week and has been the source of extra noise in the neighborhood. The neighbors also learned that the store is part of a "chain evading Cook County taxes by selling cigarettes brought in from low-tax states like Missouri," according to the letter.
The email states that Tanksley indicated at the meeting that the owners of the shop have been fined $26,000 and said that the future of the store may be in jeopardy of being shut down.
No one at Smoker's Stop could be reached by phone on Friday for comment.
Oak Park Police Commander LaDon Reynolds couldn't confirm specifics about the fines the shop has been order to pay, but he did say the fines came from the Cook County Department of Revenue after the county investigated the business.
The next step will be for the Oak Park Police Department to conduct its own review of the Smoker's Stop's business practices to see if it is in compliance with the village's business regulations.
There is no specific timeline to review the store's practices, but Reynolds said Tanksley indicated the matter is a "priority" for the department. Police officials will be working with village management and Cook County to see what violations occurred and determine how those violations align with village standards.
From there, the police department will make a recommendation to the village manager and attorney on whether the business should retain its license to operate in the village.
The store itself has been causing some headaches for neighbors, who say they deal with constant loitering and late-night noise on the street. Alexander said the late-night activity around the shop makes neighbors nervous.
"It's people just hanging around all the time," she said.
Oak Park Trustee Adam Salzman, who lives in the neighborhood, said he believes there may be grounds for revoking the business' license.
This issue, however, also brings up another possible ordinance review for Oak Park as it relates to specific businesses that operate 24/7. Oak Park has the power to enact its ordinances governing the operation of such businesses, because it is a home-rule community.
Possible changes could include amending village code to explicitly prohibit 24-hour operations or outline what type of business can operate under those hours.
Either way, Salzman or his neighbors agree that cleaning up the street can help enhance its culture. Neighbors are also still actively involved in stopping another pawn shop opening on the Chicago-side of the street.
"It's one step in an ongoing process to improve the business climate on North Avenue," Salzman said.
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