Oak Park resident Joe Graber and his wife Judith, along with a handful on North Avenue neighbors, traveled downtown last Friday for a special hearing in front of a planning and urban development committee concerning EZ Pawn.
After a few hours, the committee said it will not recommend the special use permit, but the final say is still up to the city's zoning board sometime this month.
Graber said representatives from EZ Pawn, a commercial real estate broker, an urban planner and a chairman from the bank that owns the property, were present at the hearing. All spoke favorably about why the pawn shop was a good fit for the vacant space, but neighbors weren't buying it.
"They went on and on," Graber said. "They said there was no adverse effect on the neighborhood; that it was the greatest thing since sliced bread and it would generate income."
Graber doesn't agree.
And while they went to rally against the shop, Graber figured he and other opponents would be dismissed by the committee. He was pleasantly surprised, however — after hours of testimony from each side — when the commissioners sided with the neighbors.
"It was an amazing mix of people," Graber said. "I'm not sure if the committee was surprised or impressed that Oak Park was represented."
Graber said the Galewood residents were the main organizers but that working across the suburban/city border was seamless.
"It was very smooth. It was a marriage made in heaven," he said. "They welcomed me with welcome arms. They are very concerned citizens over there."
Graber's worries that pawn shops don't promote business growth, but more importantly, they don't reflect the character and quality of the residents. He insists they do have an adverse effect on the neighborhood. A longtime Oak Parker, Graber said he's seen his once-beloved street, filled with food establishments and small businesses, change for the worse. He said they're been a decrease in the quality of retail.
He also fears pawn shops attract thieves, promotes crime and increases the overall seediness of the street. Oak Park currently has an ordinance prohibiting new pawn shops from opening, but there's nothing preventing another from opening across the street from the west suburban village.
Richard Blaurock, an Oak Park realtor, leased two of the pawn shops on North Avenue. In generally, Blaurock insists he's not opposed to those businesses per se, but having competing businesses near each other does undermine healthy business growth.
"I'm certainly not against pawn shops, but I'm not in favor of too many of them in a concentrated area," he said. "But in my experience there is no adverse effect [from a pawn shop.]"
Larry Andolino, a municipal lawyer, provided an update recently to neighbors via a post on their neighborhood website. He said testimony from a former Chicago police officer indicated that shops led to increased crime. He also noted the transition the ward is undergoing.
Galewood resident David Throne said realtors have come in and placed businesses that don't benefit those who live in the community.
"If we do not have legitimate businesses investing here and staying here, our real estate values and quality of living here will continue to plummet," he wrote on a community forum board. "The pawn shops and pay-day loan stores encourage poverty and increase crime. Our economy isn't dead yet. It's just broken and we can fix it."
A ruling on the application for EZ Pawn is expected later this month, but until then, Oak Park and Galewood residents said they'll do all they can to keep the community united and rallied.
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