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Angry Oak Park, Galewood residents meet with Ald. Graham about proposed pawn shop

Signs placed throughout sanctuary Galewood Community Church voice displeasure community entry EZ Pawn North Avenue. | RebeccR. Bibbs~For Sun-Times Media

Signs placed throughout the sanctuary of the Galewood Community Church voice the displeasure of the community at the entry of EZ Pawn on North Avenue. | Rebecca R. Bibbs~For Sun-Times Media

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A standing-room-only crowd left a meeting Tuesday angry their concerns over a new pawn shop on North Avenue apparently were dismissed by Ald. Deborah L. Graham.

Representing Chicago’s 29th ward, Graham hosted a community meeting at the Galewood Community Church to discuss the EZ Pawn location at 6432 W. North Ave. That’s on the Chicago side of North Avenue, just west of Narragansett Avenue and across the street from Oak Park.

It would be the fifth pawn shop along North Avenue in that neighborhood.

The Chicago Zoning Board of Appeals voted 3-1 on Jan. 18 to approve special zoning.

“One of the reasons I supported the pawn shop coming: They pay retirement benefits to their employees,” said the alderwoman appointed by former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley. “They’ll be bringing 10 to 12 jobs that are badly needed in our community.”

The pawn shop initially will be located in the Ald. Nicholas Sposato’s 36th Ward but will be part of Graham’s ward by 2015 after ward maps are redrawn. Sposato has gone on record opposing the pawn shop.

In July 2012, Graham wrote a letter in support of a special-use permit for the pawn shop. Oak Park and Galewood residents accused Graham of lending her support before she sought input from the community.

Audience members waited impatiently Tuesday as Graham and representatives from the Austin Bank of Chicago, EZ Pawn and McCollum Realty Ltd. made their presentations. They argued the pawn shop is a business that will generate sales tax that goes back into local governments; that it will have processes in place to prevent the purchase and sale of stolen goods; and that a Web site will provide transparency to the community in regard to its business dealings.

Graham promised to establish a nine-member compliance committee that includes Chicago and Oak Park police departments, a member from the Oak Park Chamber of Commerce and a member from each bordering the area. In addition, the alderwoman said, she asked EZ Pawn to give the shop a more respectable name, resulting in loud comments from the audience that this was a meaningless gesture.

“We’re balancing the needs of the bank and the needs of the community,” she said. “I want to show you that the authorities familiar with compliance issues will be there to ensure that the pawn shop operates as they are supposed to.”

Austin Bank CEO Sam Scott said the 7,500-foot space proposed for the pawn shop is owned by a group of about 40 investors, including the bank, which is a minority managing partner.

“We have a fiduciary responsibility to make that site at least solvent — not necessarily profitable but at least solvent,” he said.

The bank also is located next to the proposed EZ pawn location, Scott noted.

“We are a small community bank. We are of the community. This is our community as much as it is your community,” he told the crowd. “We wouldn’t knowingly rent something that would be harmful to us.”

Terry McCollom, Jr., founder and president of Oak Park-based McCollom Realty Ltd., was tasked in 2009 with finding a tenant for the space. He said he’s received letters of intent from four potential clients in the five years the space has been vacant.

“We thought the offers were good,” he said, “but when we did the due diligence, we found out there was an issue with parking.”

The pawn shop, he said, requires only four parking spaces per hour.

“In my opinion from a real estate standpoint, I believe this is the right thing to do. I understand most of the people in this room don’t think so, but I believe it’s the right thing to do,” he said.

However, community members in the audience were dissatisfied with the lack of public input, the inadequacy of measures to protect the community from crime and the glut of pawn shops in the area.

Donald Glover, key facilitator for Galewood’s CAPS police Beat 2513, said the community already had four pawn shops and didn’t need a fifth.

“The fix was in. Don’t be stupid. It is what it is,” he said to thunderous applause.

“We can’t trust you,” he added several times throughout the hour-and-a-half meeting, each time to deafening applause.

Galewood resident Francine Salerno said Graham failed to support the community when they needed her most. And given that this was her first real contact with the community, she was making a bad first impression.

“You are remiss in your duties. You have shoved this down our throats, ignored us and treated us as immaterial,” Salerno said.

Several members of the audience pointed out that Graham provided only excuses for her actions and not once offered to reconsider her support of the pawn shop in accordance with the wishes of the surrounding communities.

Several members of the audience also put Graham on notice throughout the evening that she serves at the community’s pleasure, and they will make sure she is voted out when her seat comes up for re-election.

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