1-10-07 Harold's Chicken Shack, 636 S. Wabash, Chicago Exterior sign [Keith Hale Sun-Times]
Updated: May 16, 2014 6:38AM
For nearly 65 years, Harold’s Chicken has been a staple in the black community.
But there are signs the franchise, which has locations all over Chicago’s South Side, may have worn out its welcome — at least one planned for one neighborhood.
Last month, a franchisee signed a lease for a space in the 4500 block of South Indiana but couldn’t get a business license because an alderman had suddenly rezoned the property for residential use.
Now, Kandy Cobbs, the owner of the building at 4507-09 S. Indiana, is crying foul.
“I feel Harold’s was chased away unfairly for personal reasons or personal gain. Come on, now we don’t like chicken?” she asked.
The owners of the Harold’s Chicken franchise declined to comment on the advice of lawyers.
But Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) said nearby residents didn’t want a Harold’s Chicken, especially since there were already numerous complaints about activity outside a small grocery store at that same location.
“There were concerns about more people hanging out, more activity, more traffic,” Dowell said. “With residents in the area requesting some relief, I changed the zoning back to residential.”
Dowell did more than change the zoning.
Citing nuisance complaints, Dowell used her aldermanic power to bring heat.
After the store’s owners were caught allegedly selling “loose cigarettes,” the store was closed and is currently the subject of administrative hearings, according to Dowell.
Next, building inspectors showed up and hit Cobbs with code violations. Soon afterward, a cease-and-desist order was tacked up for work the city claims was being performed without a permit.
“[Cobbs] has some culpability because she did not do what she should have legally done,” Dowell told me.
Meanwhile, after the Harold’s Chicken franchisee signed a lease with Cobbs last December, she discovered the city would not grant a business license because the property was rezoned.
“I can’t understand why the alderman is chasing black business away,” Cobbs said.
“Harold’s has been around for all these years, and I’ve never known them to attract violence of any sort. She’s not even giving them a chance,” Cobbs said.
Besides losing two business rentals, Cobbs said a residential tenant also moved out. That has made it difficult for her to keep up with the mortgage, and she fears she’ll have to walk away.
“To drive by this property now just breaks my heart,” Cobbs said. “Every drop of my retirement money has gone into this. I can’t understand how you can be against black growth.”
Cobbs said she believes Dowell is trying to push development toward 51st Street, something Dowell denies.
“It doesn’t have anything to do with me stopping black business. I have supported the community and continue to support opportunities for black businesses coming into the ward,” Dowell said.
“The [rezoning] is really designed to protect the residential community from being overrun with retail. I told Kandy I would work with her, and I told Harold’s Chicken I would help them find another location.”
Dennis Olive, who lives two doors from the initial site, said he didn’t want a Harold’s Chicken.
“You get foot traffic and vehicle traffic. What comes with vehicle traffic is loud music and people hanging out,” Olive said.
“The owners and employees of Harold’s Chicken can do everything in their power to make sure the store is considerate, but my neighbors and I will still have to clean up the trash in the street.”
Another resident, who asked for anonymity, said Harold’s Chicken should be located in strip malls.
“Given what we see from other neighborhoods, there’s a lot of activity around the stores. Here, it would be too close to homes,” the resident said.
Despite the resistance, Cobbs wants the zoning restored to mixed use.
“I wanted to see Harold’s open because it is representative of black-owned business in our area,” she said. “They have supported black food needs. Every culture has a representation that screams their culture. Harold’s is the only thing that black people in Chicago can grasp onto.”