In a surprising twist, the representatives of Oak Park’s two 7-Eleven convenience stores asked to have their shops included in the ordinance that prohibits gas stations from operating overnight. The request was made during an Oct. 25 public hearing for the controversial ordinance which the board adopted Sept. 19. Gas stations have filed a lawsuit against the village for enacting it, but their arguments were subverted by 7-Eleven leadership.

“The 7-Eleven owners basically undercut every argument that the owners of the 24-hour gas stations had,” said Diane Ratekin, one of the neighbors in support of the ordinance. “It was clear that the village board was not going to weaken the ordinance.”

The ordinance is an effort to combat violent crime perpetrated at 24-hour gas stations by limiting their hours to 5 a.m. to midnight. The two 24-hour 7-Elevens have also been the target of violent crime, as noted by both Chief Shatonya Johnson and the 7-Eleven representatives.

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“Since 2019, my store was robbed at gun point; my employees have been chased with knives, guns,” said a representative of the 7-Eleven at 661 South Blvd., who did not give his name.

The crime has not only compromised the safety of employees but made it difficult to keep the stores fully staffed. The likelihood of being held up at gunpoint has led to high employee turnover, according to the two 7-Eleven representatives, neither of whom gave their names. Wednesday Journal has reached out to the stores for comment.

“My employees are scared; they don’t want to work in the night,” said the man representing the Chicago Avenue 7-Eleven.

The power of the ordinance has been stymied by legal filings. Seven Oak Park gas stations are suing the Village of Oak Park over the ordinance and a judge granted a temporary restraining order barring its enforcement. The restraining order remains in place until further order of the court, according to John Ellis, one of the attorneys representing the gas stations.  

“I’m so glad that there is this ordinance, and we want to be part of it,” said the owner of the 7-Eleven at 240 Chicago Ave.

  The hearing was an opportunity for people for or against the ordinance to plead their views to the village board. Holding the hearing after the adoption of the ordinance was an unusual decision, but one suggested by the judge who granted the restraining order, according to Village President Vicki Scaman, who could not comment on the legal proceedings.

The hearing was no less appreciated by the gas stations’ legal counsel.

“We appreciated the opportunity to present the station owners’ position on this important issue. The safety of their customers and the security of their neighbors is, and always has been, their priority,” Ellis told Wednesday Journal.

“It’s important for the community to know the station owners understand public safety is more important than anything else. Without it, they cannot stay in business and continue to provide a service for those who work overnight jobs and shifts that most of us take for granted. Many of the owners of these businesses have been part of Oak Park for more than 20 years.”

The two 7-Eleven representatives were among the 14 who spoke in support of the ordinance at the hearing. Their request, and the reasoning behind it, cut against many of the opposition’s arguments.

The gas stations and their legal team have leaned on two primary arguments to support their case against the ordinance. The first argument, as it stands, is that 24-hour gas stations are able to fulfill the needs of people who work late hours and of those who find themselves in a bind. The gas stations’ second line of defense against the ordinance is that it will put them out of business.

Ellis included parents of sick children in need of late-night Tylenol and hospital workers among the customers who would be impacted by the ordinance. That rationale, however, was punctured by the 7-Eleven representatives.

“We don’t do much business at night,” said the owner of the Chicago Avenue 7-Eleven.

Customers that do come in during those late hours are in search of cigarettes, according to the man speaking on behalf of the South Boulevard 7-Eleven. For him, that was not enough to justify staying open all night.

“It’s not worth it,” he said.

Gas stations, however, have argued that they will go out of business because of the ordinance. They stand to lose between 12% and 35% of gross revenue under the ordinance, according to Ellis. The gas stations were unable to provide the amount of revenue made between midnight and 5 a.m. at the hearing.

Harry Singh, manager of the BP where 18-year-old Jailyn Logan-Bledsoe was killed last summer, helped Ellis in discussing the financial impact mandated hours of operations in the ordinance would present. Singh first gave his condolences to Logan-Bledsoe’s family.

“We never saw that coming,” he said. “I just wish that never happened.”

The current 11 p.m. closure, Singh said, has impacted his business “in a big way.” Continuing to close at night would limit fuel sales, making the station unable to meet the terms of its contracts with fuel suppliers, according to Singh.

This was further at odds with the 7-Eleven locations. The owners of the two convenience stores technically have the authority to close their shops at any point, but their contractors will not let them do so unless mandated by the village.

“I would like to be a part of this ordinance and I would appreciate it if the city could help me out,” said the 7-Eleven representative of 661 South Blvd.

Gas stations have bolstered these arguments by claiming that there is no evidence to suggest limiting hours would decrease crime. This was disputed at the hearing by Johnson who said there have been zero burglaries, acts of vandalism and violent crimes committed at the Chicago Avenue BP since it began voluntarily closing at 11 p.m. following the murder.

The gas stations’ request that the ordinance be amended to include an expiration date and with the requirement that gas stations implement greater security measures did not fare as well as the 7-Eleven request. The village board directed staff to amend the ordinance so that it also applied to 24-hour convenience stores. It will return to the board Nov. 7.  

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