Mayor says problem liquor stores a ‘cancer,’ proposes crackdown
BY FRAN SPIELMAN AND STEFANO ESPOSITO Staff Reporters April 11, 2012 2:08PM
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is cracking down on liquor and convenience stores that are crime-ridden. Ray Fakhouri is the manager of Calumet Food and Liquor at 315 E. 43rd Street in Chicago. Sun-Times photo
Updated: May 13, 2012 8:25AM
With Chicago’s murder rate up 60 percent over last year, Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Wednesday launched a coordinated crackdown aimed at shutting down liquor and convenience stores that serve as magnets for crime.
“These locations often harbor drug dealers and street gang members and become a cancer on the community,” the mayor told the first graduating class of police recruits since he took office.
“By taking aggressive enforcement action, we can send a clear message that the streets of Chicago belong to the children and the law-abiding residents of Chicago — not drug dealers and gang bangers.”
Until now, Emanuel said the city has relied on consumer complaints before moving to suspend or revoke the licenses of liquor and convenience stores.
Under the new and coordinated approach, City Hall will no longer wait for a major incident, such as a shooting, to trigger enforcement action.
Information will be pulled from 311 calls and from all city departments involved with enforcement including Business Affairs and Consumer Protection, Police, Streets and Sanitation, Health and Buildings.
Whenever there’s a string of problems, arrests or a pattern of complaints against an establishment, the city “will move to revoke the liquor license and any other city business licenses,” officials said. The city may also ask the Illinois General Assembly to “strengthen legislation so the city’s authority in this area is strong,” officials said.
Since 2008, the city has revoked the licenses of 105 businesses that fall into the convenience store or liquor store category.
But the coordinated crackdown can’t come soon enough for South Side Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd).
She’s been trying to shut down at least two problem establishments in her ward since her 2007 election without success because a so-called “deleterious impact” ordinance that requires residents to work with business owners is “anemic.”
“When the community identifies things we want the owner to do to make the store a better neighbor — hiring security, putting up cameras or stop selling certain products — sometimes they cooperate and sometimes they don’t,” Dowell said.
“When the owner didn’t cooperate in one case, we had to get neighbors to petition to close it. But because of the location and the vacant land around it, were weren’t able to meet the [signature] requirement. Meanwhile, the store is still a problem. Last summer, there was a shooting in the lot adjacent to the store.”
Dowell said shootings are not the only problem at liquor and convenience stores. So is loitering, public drinking and gambling.
“People go in and get their alcohol and hang out on the street drinking their 40-ounce. It’s frustrating,” she said.
“... They contribute to a poor quality of life on many of our commercial corridors and act as a hindrance to additional investment,” she said. “Some of them have been identified for selling loose cigarettes and expired food products. When you begin to look at all those things together — 311 calls, aldermanic complaints and petitions — the city can move to close down these stores. We should be more aggressive.”
One of the stores Dowell has targeted for closure is Calumet Food and Liquors, 315 E. 43rd, although she did not list any specific complaints against the store.
On Wednesday, security guard Tyrone Watson defended the store, saying, “We apply everything they ask us to do. We call police. We make complaints, we go to court. If there is any type of illegal activity, I report it to 911.”
Watson did acknowledge there is drug-dealing from time to time outside the store. But manager Ray Fakhouri said the store can’t be responsible for what happens on “the streets.”
“Whatever happens outside, I cant control it. I have to watch my back. I have four kids at home. I cant go outside and stop what I’m doing.”
He added: “It is unfair. This place has been here 35 years and we’ve never had any problems with nobody. They asked us to stop the selling the cheap wine. And of course we did that. … Whatever they ask, we do it. “
A police officer outside the store said things have improved since the store hired security six months ago.
Customer James Thompson, 39, a carpenter from Bronzeville, said it would be a mistake to close stores like Calumet.
“It’s a positive aspect to the community,” he said. “If we lose it we have to walk a mile to the next store. If they shut it down, what would they replace it with?”
Sam Joudeh — owner of Jamaica Food and Liquor at Cottage Grove and 42nd— said he’s also been targeted by Dowell’s office who he said falsely accused him of selling loose cigarettes.
“I believe she don’t want no liquor stores around here,” Joudeh said Wednesday, standing outside his store.
Joudeh said he’s been a law-abiding merchant in Bronzeville for 20-plus years and is “100 percent” behind the mayor’s efforts to cut crime. To illustrate his point, he produced a folder, with a yellowed Chicago Sun-Times article about an award he received in 1996 from the city’s Human Relations Commission.
But just then, a man who claimed to own four condominiums above Joudeh’s store interrupted Joudeh’s conversation with a Sun-Times reporter, barking: “You attract the scum of the earth! You sell crap!”
“What crap? What crap?” Joudeh replied angrily.
The man, who wouldn’t give his name, said he lives in the neighborhood.
“I want this place closed,” he said. “He doesn’t sell food. He sells junk, garbage.”
“I want you to go inside and see the junk we sell,” Joudeh said, before the other man walked away.