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Galewood, Oak Park residents still worried about pawn shop

Chicago Ald. Deborah L. Graham met with residents Thursday night Galewood Community Church 1776 N. Narragansett Ave. discuss businesses proposed

Chicago Ald. Deborah L. Graham met with residents Thursday night at Galewood Community Church, 1776 N. Narragansett Ave., to discuss businesses proposed for North Ave. | Rebecca R. Bibbs~for Sun-Times Media

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Updated: April 29, 2013 10:06AM

OAK PARK — Residents of Oak Park and Chicago’s Galewood neighborhoods appear to remain uncertain about the intentions of a Chicago alderwoman whose first contact with the communities a month ago centered around a controversial pawn shop.

Keeping the promise she made Feb. 19 to bring all potential business proposals for the North Avenue corridor to the communities along it, Ald. Deborah L. Graham hosted a meeting Thursday at Galewood Community Church.

“I ask that you guys give me an opportunity. I know we’ve had a rough start. I’m going to work really hard,” Graham told about 75 people gathered at the church, 1776 N. Narragansett Ave.

The EZ Pawn shop proposed for a vacant space at 6432 W. North Ave. (on the north side of the street) is within the Chicago city limits. But some Oak Park residents, represented by the North Avenue Neighbors Association, also have been active in fighting it. Oak Park starts on the south side of North Avenue.

Residents said they believe the four existing pawn shops along that stretch of North Avenue already represent a glut in that market. In addition, they said, pawn shops invite crime and are a sign of urban decay.

Members of the community, represented by lawyer and Galewood resident Larry Andolino, said they are prepared to file a lawsuit seeking a reversal of the special use zoning approved in January by the Chicago Zoning Board of Appeals. Andolino is waiting on the zoning board to publish its ruling, which is expected to occur next week.

Thursday’s meeting started off on the wrong foot as many in the crowd said they felt they did not receive timely notice. The crowd was much smaller than the several hundred people who had crowded into the sanctuary Feb. 19 to voice their nearly unanimous objections to the pawn shop.

“We did send fliers to residents,” insisted Graham, who represents Chicago’s 29th ward.

In spite of its appearance on the agenda, Graham did not really address the pawn shop until pressed by the audience, focusing most of the meeting instead on the likely move of the Northridge Cleaners and plans for a banquet hall. Many members of the Galewood and Oak Park communities said they expected more of the meeting to deal with the controversial special zoning of a pawn shop.

Graham, who submitted an endorsement letter to the zoning board, said she initially did not support the proposed EZ Pawn shop but that she supported Austin Bank of Chicago’s attempt to rent the vacant space at 6432 W. North Ave.

“I understand the community’s concerns, but the place has been empty for five years,” she said.

The pawn shop may not be a done deal, Graham said. The company’s owners still need to apply for a business license, a process that includes public comment. She urged the Galewood residents to provide petitions to be included in the packet to be presented for the license.

Graham also reminded the crowd what happened last year when owners of Felony Franks, a hot dog stand staffed by ex-cons, went to court in support of their right to operate a hot dog stand at Jackson Boulevard and Western Avenue.

“The point is they won their lawsuit,” the alderwoman said, implying that EZ Pawn also might win a lawsuit. The company, however, went out of business because its owners spent all their money fighting the community.

Graham repeatedly referred to the proposed EZ Pawn as “EZ Cash Solution,” which eventually prompted audience members to ask why. Graham said EZ Pawn officials changed the name because she asked them to in an effort to rehabilitate the company’s image in the community.

However, Joe Graber, co-founder of NANA , said Thursday he wasn’t impressed by anything Graham said about the pawn shop.

“I would like to see her withdraw her support for the pawn shop. It would be nice if she said, ‘I withdraw my letter,’” he said.

Graber said he also was uncertain why the community was asked to submit more petitions to the licensing board demonstrating its opposition to the pawn shop.

“The petitions are already there in city government. I don’t know why they can’t share the petitions between different entities,” he said.

In addition, Graber said, the change in the pawn shop’s name was an empty gesture.

“The name change doesn’t mean anything. It’s still a pawn shop. And that makes five,” he said.

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