Under scrutiny, pawnshops get another year from split board

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By Drew Carter

North Avenue pawnshops will remain in Oak Park for at least another year despite protests from neighbors at Monday night's village board meeting.

The board voted 4-3?#34;the slimmest of margins?#34;to renew one-year business licenses for two pawnshops where stolen goods were found for sale in 2004. The board voted 5-2 to renew the license of a third pawnshop, where no stolen property was recovered.

Marilyn Foster, a resident of the 1200 block of North Harvey Avenue, told the board that the three pawnshops?#34;the only three in Oak Park?#34;were "literally a step away" from the houses on her block, and that she and her neighbors "feel [pawnshops] are not allies of the community."

Foster urged the board to find a legal loophole, "anything we can do to shut these pawnshops down."

Judith Alexander, who lives on the same block, said pawnshops create a "slum atmosphere" and an "atmosphere of neglect" on North Avenue that "emboldens people to act like criminals.

"They're just bad news," Alexander said.

Police Chief Rick Tanksley said the stolen goods found for sale at Oak Park pawnshops tend to be property stolen outside the village. Local laws require the shops to itemize every piece of property pawned along with identifying material for the person pawning the item, and to deliver that information to Oak Park police by noon on the day after the item arrived.

Tanksley said one shop, Cash America Pawn of Chicago, 6303 W. North Ave., had 19 incidents of stolen goods recovered in 2004. Selling stolen goods is not illegal, as long as the shop properly catalogs the item and its previous owner.

Information collected by pawnshops led to some arrests, Tanksley said. When an item is found to be stolen, the shop must surrender it to police, losing whatever money it paid for?#34;and profit it might derive from?#34;the item.

Irving Park Jewelry & Coins, 6147 W. North Ave., had one incident of stolen items, while American Jewelers & Loan Ltd., 6149 North Ave., did not have any.

Trustee Robert Milstein said he always votes against renewing pawnshop licenses, calling the businesses "criminal magnets" that serve "no good purpose whatsoever."

Trustee Geoff Baker asked Tanksley about the connection between people who steal and then pawn items and drug use.

"A vast majority of our crimes are drug-related," Tanksley said. Of the 19 incidents at American Pawn, some stolen items were traced to thieves and burglars, while others stole items from family members.

Trustees Milstein, Baker and Martha Brock voted against approving the licenses.

Richard Blaurock, who owns the shopping center that Cash America is in, told the board that he's had no complaints about the pawn dealer, which contributes more than $35,000 in property taxes to the community.

"They've been an excellent, excellent tenant," Blaurock said.

Trustee Elizabeth Brady said she was "very sympathetic" to neighbors of the pawnshops, having fought before becoming a board member for ordinances now in place that forbid licenses to be issued to new pawnshops, payday loan, and other businesses deemed undesirable.

However, Brady said the village needed to honor the guidelines it set out for the businesses.

Village Attorney Ray Heise said the village could chose to not renew a pawnshop's license only "by cause," and did not think that the finding of stolen goods at the pawnshops met that qualification.

Trustee Ray Johnson asked Heise if not renewing a pawnshop's license would prompt a lawsuit.

"I'd say there is a fairly strong likelihood that issue would be litigated," Heise said.

Heise said that once a pawnshop owner dies or quits the business, his or her license cannot be sold to someone else, thus reducing the number of pawnshops in the village over time.

But President David Pope pointed out that, in the case of Cash America, which is owned by a publicly-held company, ownership of the license could go on indefinitely.

Pope and others argued to toughen the requirements of and restrictions on pawnshops, something the board will look to do in January.

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