New pawn shop likely coming to North Avenue

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Some Galewood residents’ concern that a half-mile stretch of North Avenue could soon be known as “pawn shop row” may become reality.

Chicago’s Zoning Board of Appeals voted 3-1 to approve plans for an EZ Pawn store just west of Narragansett Avenue at its Jan. 18 meeting.  The public learned of the decision Wednesday when offices re-opened after the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

The store is set to be the fifth pawn shop clustered along North Avenue between Ridgeland and Hayes Avenues.

EZ Pawn has come under fire from Ald. Nicholas Sposato (36th), whose ward would house the store, and West Side residents who took to their local CAPS meeting this week to voice their concerns.

“I’m very, very disappointed,” Sposato said after hearing the news Wednesday.

The alderman said he plans to appeal the board’s decision and is looking into legal counsel.

Objectors have 35 days after the board issues a resolution, which can take up to 60 days, to file an appeal to the Cook County Circuit Court, according to the Zoning Board of Appeals’ office.

“We’ll see where we can go from here,” Sposato said. “I don’t give up that easy.”

The decision came as a shock to Sposato, especially after a city planning and urban development committee sided with the alderman and about 30 residents of his ward at a special hearing Friday.

“We felt we gave a good case,” he said.

The committee said it would not recommend a permit for another pawn shop in the section of North Avenue, but ultimately the decision was up to the Zoning Board of Appeals.

EZ Pawn approached Sposato about a year ago about opening the business, the alderman said at the CAPS meeting.

Sposato told EZ Pawn ‘no’ after hearing widespread opposition from his constituents, and a year later it’s come back and “reared its ugly head.”

The alderman said the community doesn’t need another pawn shop, and other residents agreed at Galewood’s Tuesday night CAPS meeting.

“I could see one or two (pawn shops), but it will be five,” said Galewood resident Thomas Simmons, who serves on the Amundsen Park Community Council. “It’s just no good.”

The EZ Pawn would be located within Sposato’s 36th Ward– for now.

Once the redistricted wards take effect after the next municipal election in 2015, the store would be located in Ald. Deborah Graham’s 29th Ward.

Sposato and some community members who attended Friday’s hearing said Graham submitted a letter of approval to the city for the EZ Pawn.

And that news upset Donald Glover, the Galewood CAPS community liaison for police beat 2513.

Glover said Graham did not hold a community hearing about the proposed business.

“That’s not representation,” Glover said.

People should have a say in what happens in their community, he added.

“Without saying anything to the community, she signs a letter in support of it.”

Graham said she did not go behind the community’s back, as she’s been in conversation with Sposato and residents who have called her office about the proposed store.

The future EZ Pawn site is within the aldermen’s transition area due to the ward remap, and Graham said she’s been trying not to “butt heads” with Sposato.

She said EZ Pawn came to her, and she also initially said ‘no.’

She thought it was done issue, but then Austin Bank of Chicago approached her and said the strip mall where the bank is located, 6400 W. North Ave., needed an anchor store, which has been vacant for years.

Graham said the bank told her it would be hard for a small business to fill the large space or to pay for remodeling, and EZ Pawn, which was in communication with the bank, could be appropriate for the site.

The letter she sent to the city was not in support of another pawn shop in the area, she said.

“It was for the bank,” she said. “The bank asked me to support (EZ Pawn) for an anchor.”

It was a tough business decision, she added.

But the publicly traded EZCorp, which owns EZ Pawn stores, has the means to fight to get the site regardless of what she or other aldermen say, she said.

“They have the wherewithal to make a case, and I said to Sposato, ‘Our best defense is to go for a moratorium, that no more (pawn shops) be put in the area,’” Graham said.

The alderman said she is seriously considering putting forth a moratorium on any new pawn shops in the 29th Ward going forward.

EZ Pawn has some additional plans for the location, but Graham said she couldn’t comment on the details until the company makes the announcement at a community meeting in the coming weeks.

Idella Mister, a 27-year Galewood resident, said she understands the pros and cons of local pawn shops.

“If I need milk and food for my children, and I could pawn my ring to get $100 until I get a pay day, then that’s in a good vein,” she said. “But if I want to pawn that ring to go buy drugs, the pawn shop is making it accessible for me.”

But resident Simmons said he’s concerned theft will go up in the area.

And when people sell something to a pawn shop, the merchandise is usually kept in the back for 30 days, he added.

“If somebody stole my lawnmower or my snow blower out of my garage, if it’s in back, I will not see it,” Simmons said.

Image by Xnatedawgx via Wikimedia Commons

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