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Owner: Felony Franks on Near West Side likely to close

People hang out bus shelter next Felony Franks 229 S. Western Ave. Saturday June 2 2012 Chicago. | John J.

People hang out at a bus shelter next to Felony Franks, 229 S. Western Ave., Saturday, June 2, 2012, in Chicago. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times

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Updated: July 7, 2012 8:10AM

Felony Franks manager Brian Smiley is not sure what he will do if the Near West Side hot dog stand where he has worked for nearly a year closes shop this weekend.

The owner of the restaurant — which has garnered international attention because of its criminally themed menu and its battle with the city over a sign advertising its name — says he will likely have to close his shop at 229 S. Western because of declining business and problems with a nearby liquor store.

Smiley, a felon who, like other workers there, was given a second chance by the owner, said Saturday he “might have to hit a few temp agencies.”

But he said no matter what happens, he is grateful to owner Jim Andrews.

“He gave me an opportunity,” said Smiley, 34, of South Lawndale. “I haven’t let him down.”

Andrews agrees, and said he was happy to employ more than a dozen ex-offenders like Smiley since he opened the eatery in 2009.

He said business was good at first for his “misdemeanor wieners,” but slowly started to dive when a nearby liquor store reopened and attracted crowds of people to the nearby streets and sidewalks. He said he’s called 911 numerous times but the crowds have scared off other patrons. He also said the protracted battle with the city over erecting a sign in front of his business hurt his bottom line. After a 2½-year battle that culminated in a First Amendment lawsuit that he won, he eventually got approval for the sign from the city, even though local Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) had tried to block it on grounds that the name sent a “bad message” to students.

“The hole we fell into with the liquor store and no signage was horrible,” Andrews said.

Liquor store officials couldn’t be reached for comment.

Andrew said he’s received calls about selling the business, but he said he would need to do so quickly because he doesn’t want to lose any more money. Smiley said the store has enough inventory to stay open until early next week.

“Its a nice spot, I don’t want to close it, but I just can’t deal with it anymore,” he said.

He said in addition to the four workers there now, he is glad six to eight former workers have since gotten jobs at other places. Only a couple of workers haven’t worked out.

“In general it’s better than good. They are better people. They are better workers. They work hard because they get an opportunity and they have to prove themselves, not only to themselves, but to society.”

He added: “If every business would take one or two ex-offenders, we would have a better society.”

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