City pressures Western liquor store as owner may knock it down
11/14/2012 10:00 PM
Western Avenue is in flux. Wander north of the Green Line tracks and you’ll find a typical urban industrial area. Drive south of the Eisenhower Expressway and you enter relatively quiet Tri-Taylor.
But between Jackson and Lake lies a stretch of Western that’s long had a rough-and-tumble reputation. That’s something local community groups and the city have been striving to change for years, nurturing businesses as the Chicago Housing Authority has torn down projects around that stretch. The street now features boutiques, a Walgreens, the Blackhawks’ official practice ice rink and if construction goes as planned, soon a Pete’s Fresh Market.
But one main business there remains a blight on the stretch: Adams Food & Liquor, at 219 S. Western Ave., a store that consistently attracts loiterers, gang activity and murders. Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) and Near West Side community leaders are taking the business to task and trying to shut it down through a process called “deleterious impact hearings,” in which opponents testify about a business’ negative effect on the neighborhood before the city’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection. Based on the hearings, the city develops a list of changes that businesses need to make, and they’re shut down if they don’t.
Mike Quinlan, who works on economic development along Western for the Near West Side Chamber of Commerce, said the first hearing about two weeks ago was jam-packed — about 40 people showed up.
While he’s tried for years to work on sprucing up the street, Adams Liquor has consistently been a black eye.
“You can’t walk by the store without someone trying to sell you loose cigarettes in front of it — I’ve had someone try to sell me puppies,” Quinlan said. “I’ve got neighbors who say customers defecate and urinate on their lawns and leave graffiti on their homes.”
The store has been around for so long that for years neighbors just took it for granted, he said. But with the rest of the changes along Madison, he said, it’s suddenly become more visible.
“This liquor store comes under fire because there are other things we’ve cleaned up that make you become more aware of it. Madison and Western used to be a lot crazier than it is right now. We’ve had all these new businesses come in and really stabilize things,” Quinlan said. “It just feels so much like a final foothold from a time that’s quickly passing this neighborhood by. It’s really dramatic when you look at all the pieces.”
The store has consistently attracted violence to the area, too. Just last Sunday, Nov. 11, three people were shot near the store, including a 15-year-old boy. In March, a man was stabbed to death in front of the store in a gang-related dispute.
When Chicago Journal stopped by last week, one of the men standing in front of Adams Liquor defended the store. Jeffrey Foy, who sells individual cigarettes in front of the store, denied that crime happens outside the store, and he blames the alderman for trying to “flip” the area.
“This is the only place a person can get a cold beer,” Foy said. “We’re not causing any trouble. Most guys are just selling loose cigarettes to feed their families.
“My personal opinion is [the alderman] don’t want us in the community.”
At the deleterious impact hearings, Adams’ owner Ahmad Keshta didn’t show up. Instead, his attorney, former Cook County board member Tony Peraica, testified on the owner’s behalf.
When called after the hearing, Peraica said the store’s owners are having a tough time running the shop but denied they were violating any laws.
“The area there is a very challenging area that is in transition,” he said. “They share [neighbors’ and officials’] concerns, because it’s not in their benefit to have the place under siege all the time.”
While the owners have tried to combat the loitering, there aren’t many more options available to them, Peraica said.
“They have professional security personnel, but they’re limited in terms of what they can do,” Peraica said. “It’s a free country; people can congregate on the sidewalk if they want to. If the community feels they would be better off with another shutdown, boarded-up business, then OK.”
Keshta, the store’s owner, said he can’t do much about the people outside.
“I think the people in the street don’t have anything to do with any human being on my side,” he said. “They come and they buy something, welcome. I can’t tell them what to do. This is a free country.”
If the city determines that they’re responsible for what happens outside, he’ll simply shut Adams down and level the rest of the building, which he also owns.
“I pay taxes inside, not outside,” Keshta said. “If somebody complained and says that the store has to be responsible for the people on the sidewalk, we can’t do this, no. We’ll knock it down.”