Just months after supporting the controversial opening of a fifth pawn shop along North Avenue in the Galewood neighborhood of Chicago, Ald. Deborah Graham (29th) has sponsored an ordinance that would have blocked the business.
Under the proposal, pawn shops would not be able to open within 5,000 feet of one another — the equivalent of 10 city blocks — increasing the distance five times from the 1,000 feet presently in the law. The proposal also would limit the number of pawn shops in Chicago to one licensed pawn shop per every 36,000 residents, with a maximum total of 75 pawn shops citywide.
The city would be obliged to revisit the issue once the city’s population exceeds 3 million to determine if the total number of pawn shops allowed should be increased to reflect population growth, according to the ordinance. Also, those with a pawnbroker license would need approval from the Chicago Zoning Board of Appeals before relocating the business.
The proposal was introduced Dec. 11. In addition to Graham, the law is being sponsored by Ald. Michelle A. Harris (8th), Ald. Lona Lane (18th) and Ald. Howard Brookins Jr. (21st)
Graham said in a telephone interview that she introduced the proposed ordinance “so communities aren’t saturated” with pawn shops. But in January she bucked constituents in Oak Park and Chicago who opposed to a fifth pawn shop, which opened in the 6400 block of North Avenue. Graham wrote a letter to the Zoning Board of Appeals supporting a zoning change needed for the business to open.
Graham said in an interview that she did not support the pawn shop initially but changed her mind when ABC Bank — which owns the strip mall where EZ Pawn is located and which Graham described as a staple of the Austin community — asked for her support.
“It’s not that I chose the bank over the community,” she said, noting that before EZ Pawn moved into space that had been vacant for four and a half years.
After the zoning board approved EZ Pawn’s zoning change, neighbors from Austin, Oak Park and Galewood rallied, forming the Northwest Side Community Coalition to fight the proposal.
Neighbors, along with 36th Ward Ald. Nicholas Sposato, sued to have the zoning change reversed, but earlier this month a Cook County Chancery Court judge threw out the case. Plaintiffs said they plan to file a motion to reconsider.
Graham said she agrees that pawn shops “aren’t the most desirable businesses” but “they are better than a vacancy.”
“There are still a lot of vacancies [in the area],” she said, adding that she is actively working with a broker to fill the spots.
“I’m listening to the concerns of the people, and we wanted to make sure this didn’t happen again,” she said.
The proposal was referred to the Chicago City Council’s Committee on License and Consumer Protection.