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Felony Franks may soon get its sign thanks to court agreement

It took more than two years but Felony Franks 229 S. Western will get its sign. | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

It took more than two years, but Felony Franks, at 229 S. Western, will get its sign. | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

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Updated: July 7, 2011 3:44PM

It looks like the Chicago hot dog stand known as the “home of the misdemeanor wiener” will soon be clearly identified as such — with a sign that says “Felony Franks.”

After a 2½-year battle that culminated in a First Amendment lawsuit, the City Council’s Transportation Committee will meet on June 6 to issue the sign permit local Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) has been blocking on grounds that the name sends a “bad message” to area students.

The agreement hammered out in federal court this week stipulates that Fioretti and three other aldermen named in the lawsuit will no longer “oppose, interfere or obstruct” the permit application process for Felony Franks, 229 S. Western.

“We live in the greatest country in the world. We have freedom of speech. If I cannot be allowed to call my business what I want, then we’re living in a dictatorship, not a democracy,” said owner Jim Andrews, who hires ex-offenders. “If you fight hard enough for what you believe in, the system works. The only thing wrong with the system is the consumer shouldn’t have to fight as hard as I had to fight for what’s right.”

The lawsuit is still pending and Andrews is still demanding $293,000 in damages for business lost during the 2½-year sign battle.

“We’ve had to continually put money into the business to keep it going because of no signage. When you’re driving north or south on Western and you glance over and see a frame for a sign that’s empty, it gives you the impression of a closed business,” he said.

Sources said the city’s Law Department advised aldermen that they didn’t have a legal leg to stand on and that, if they continued to stonewall, they risked having a federal judge strip the city of its authority to grant and regulate sign permits.

Fioretti acknowledged Friday that he is no longer going to “stall” the issue. But, his philosophical objections remain to a sign that features a hot dog behind bars with a ball and chain and the slogan “Food so good, it’s criminal.”

“We want positive images for our kids. We shouldn’t be glorifying criminal conduct. It sends the wrong message to a community we’re trying to uplift. Ruben Ivy was killed less than 75 feet from the store,” Fioretti said, referring to an 18-year-old Crane H.S. student gunned down outside the school in 2008.

Andrews said he can’t understand how a simple sign “done as a charicature” could promote criminal activity.

“It’s a hot dog with a black-and-white striped suit on with a ball and chain on its ankle. We haven’t seen any jail use a ball and chain in hundreds of years,” the owner said.

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