Two years after a series of heated meetings between residents of Galewood and then-Ald. Deborah Graham (29th) over the community’s disapproval of the opening of a new EZPawn shop on Narragansett and North Avenue, the establishment has once again become the focus of controversy.
North Avenue business Easy Cash Solutions, located at 6432 W. North Avenue, has changed its storefront name to EZPawn.
The change represents a repudiation of what James Rose, vice president of property development for EZCORP, promised would be a plan to operate the location as an Easy Cash Solutions rather than a pawn shop — the latter to which area residents were vehemently opposed.
To stem the tide of the negative feedback over the new business, Rose and his associates at EZCORP produced a written letter of listed concessions the organization was willing to make in order to operate the business in the Galewood area. The agreement, which Rose signed on February 19, 2013, made several assurances to community residents.
Among them were that the location would not sell firearms, not offer pay day or title loans and operate as an Easy Cash Solutions. The reasoning was that an Easy Cash Solutions wouldn’t attract the criminal element associated with pawn shops.
That agreement, however, doesn’t appear to have been honored. As of May 2015, the EZPawn sign is still displayed on the storefront signage.
One reason the nearly two-and-a-half year old promissory note may not have been adhered to is the lack of a letter of operations attached to the concession letter, which would have made the note legally binding. Without that legal authority, and with no elected officials demanding that the EZCORP letter be accompanied by the legally binding document, the company has been able to operate the business as it had originally intended.
One resident of Galewood, who preferred not be named, said that prior to losing her bid for another term, Ald. Graham was employed by the City of Chicago on the Department of Planning and therefore would have been known that a letter of operations was necessary to make the agreement stick.
“I was at the town halls when the agreement was being ironed out and EZCORP was promising not to open the business as a pawn shop,” said Cary Benjamin Weisgram, an educator and 7-year resident of the Montclare community.
“In my heart of hearts, I was hoping they would keep their word and respect the community’s wishes, but I think I knew otherwise.”
Weisgram described EZCORP as a firm that syphons resources out of communities without providing any benefits.
“I don’t expect to attend a little league game in Galewood and see the EXCORP logo on a kid’s jersey as a sponsor,” said Weisberg. “That’s not their function. The company exists to dupe people into accepting predatory loans and capitalizing on the economic hardships of others with its pawn shops. To expect something different would be like expecting a mosquito to contribute something tangible to its host. It only lives to take away.”
Weisgram adds that members of the community can make their disapproval heard by simply not patronizing the EZPawn.
“I think that residents can show their dislike for the shop by boycotting it,” said Weisberg. “The business exists because its owners believe there is money to be made through its practices. But if the community rejects their premise, they will get the message pretty quickly.”
In January 2013, Chicago’s Zoning Board of Appeals voted 3 to 1 to grant EZ Pawn access to a vacant storefront in a strip mall next to the Austin Bank of Chicago. The decision, including Ald. Graham’s support for the move, drew the ire of several Austin area residents who believed that the shop was unnecessary given the four other pawn shops along North Avenue, Ridgeland and Hayes Avenues.
Residents were also incensed by the alderman’s written letter of support to the city in July 2012 for a permit to the contractors of the pawn shop, despite the vocal community opposition. Many believe that this decision played a large role in Graham losing a runoff election against Chris Taliaferro in April.
A spokesperson for Easy Cash Solutions and the office of Ald. Chris Taliaferro were unavailable for comment.