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The ongoing fight over another pawn shop on North Avenue continued on Feb. 19 at a heated Galewood community meeting.
Ald. Deborah Graham (29th) called for the meeting at the Galewood Community Church in response to an outpouring of community opposition to an EZ Pawn at 6432 W. North Ave. in Chicago, which borders Oak Park.
Galewood resident Francine Salerno accused the alderman of treating the Galewood community with "great disrespect" by not holding a meeting until now.
"You have shoved this down our throat, ignored us, made us immaterial," Salerno said.
Graham gave the residents her commitment, saying she will not approve any future local businesses before receiving community input.
"I am a community person just like you," Graham said. "I love my community just like you, and we can only move forward at this point."
In January, Chicago's Zoning Board of Appeals voted 3-1 to approve the EZ Pawn store to fill a vacant storefront in a strip mall next to Austin Bank of Chicago, 6400 W. North Ave. EZ Pawn is set to be the fifth pawn shop clustered along North Avenue between Ridgeland and Hayes avenues.
The pawn shop is in Ald. Nicholas Sposato's 36th Ward, but it will be on Graham's turf once the new ward map, which was approved last year, takes full effect in 2015. Sposato, who opposes the store, said he plans to appeal the zoning board's decision.
The feisty residents maintain that another pawn shop will have a negative impact on the community. They often interrupted Graham and representatives from EZ Pawn and ABC Bank during the meeting. Graham said she drafted an ordinance, with the help of Sposato, that will put a freeze on any more pawn shops in the area; it also would not allow for special-use permits.
"We don't trust you," Donald Glover, the Galewood CAPS community liaison for police beat 2513, shouted at Graham.
Beth Chlumecky, another resident, asked Graham, "Has EZ Pawn made a contribution to your campaign?" Graham replied it has not. EZ Pawn did not comment in response to Chlumecky's question. The alderman reports no contributions from EZ Pawn or EZCorp on the campaign finance reports she has filed since becoming alderman in March 2010.
Residents took jabs at the alderman, accusing her of going behind their backs when she wrote a letter of support to the city in July for a special permit for the pawn shop.
Graham said she spoke with Sposato several times and he was "completely aware" of her letter. But some people at the meeting shouted, "That's not true."
"You can't speak for Ald. Sposato when he and I talk at the City Council," she said. "You can't do that."
Graham insisted she is not an advocate for more pawn shops in the area. But she was persuaded to support EZ Pawn, she recalled, after ABC Bank approached her saying it needed an anchor store in a spot that has been vacant for five years.
According to Graham, the bank told her it would be hard for a small business to fill the large space or to pay for remodeling, and that EZ Pawn, which was in communication with the bank, could be appropriate for the site.
Sam Scott, CEO of ABC Bank, said the bank has tried to rent out the space it owns for years, and the vacancy has been a "financial drain." He added that the bank appreciates the residents' concerns, but it doesn't necessarily share them.
"We don't think [EZ Pawn] is going to be a problem," Scott said, adding that the bank has "done the homework" and thought about it a lot.
The crowd often interrupted Scott, and a few people shouted out that they would take their money out of ABC Bank.
Oak Park resident Judith Alexander asked Graham if she would make a commitment to the community to not approve another special zoning permit going forward without talking to the community first.
"Moving forward we will join together to bring the kind of businesses we're looking for on North Avenue," Graham said. "You have my commitment "
Neal Wankoff, a member of the Galewood Residents Organization, stressed that the residents have all made a financial commitment to the community.
"A fifth pawn shop will not improve the value of our home or improve it," said Wankoff, who blogs at Galewood.net.