CALUMET HEIGHTS — Cash America Inc. of Illinois fell one vote shy of securing a special permit to open a pawn shop inside a South Side strip mall, and residents, local business owners and the alderman said they couldn't be happier.
According to Peter Strazzabosco, deputy commissioner for the Department of Housing and Economic Development, three yes votes were need by the city's five-member Zoning Board of Appeals to approve the permit. But at a recent meeting only four members were present and two voted against the proposal.
"Currently there is a vacany on the board so no fifth member exists," Strazzabosco said.
Regardless of how the proposal failed, resident Cat Alia said is pleased.
"I'm glad a pawn shop won't be opening at this mall. Black people don't need pawn shops. We need jobs and training programs," said the 87-year-old retired special education teacher, who has lived in the Jeffrey Manor neighborhood on the South Side for 40 years. "I wouldn't mind seeing a youth organization in that spot. These kids are running around here like they lost their minds and need something to occupy their time."
Paul Rosenfield, a spokesman for Cash America Inc., was unavailable for comment.
The Texas-based retailer not only faced opposition from residents and local organizations but also from Ald. Natashia Holmes (7th), whose ward includes the proposed site for the pawn shop.
"There are no pawn shops in the 7th Ward, and while I am not opposed to pawn shops, I do feel that a pawn shop for that location was not suitable," Holmes said. "The residents made it very clear they did not want a pawn shop and as long as I am alderman I will always stand with my constituents."
Holmes added that she would love to see a sit-down restaurant at that location.
"The east side of 95th Street should look like the west side of 95th Street," where the Beverly neighborhood is located, explained Holmes. "Black people spend money just like anyone else, but too often we have to go outside of our community to shop because of limited shopping options in our own backyard."
“This shows what can be done when the community works together. You can have results," said John Acoff, vice president of the South Shore Gardens Betterment Association and a Calumet Heights resident. "From Day One I have led protests against a pawn shop moving into our neighborhood. I was not going to let that happen."
Others who opposed Cash America's proposal said they feared that a pawn shop would attract the wrong crowd to the neighborhood.
"Had it been allowed to open it would have drawn the wrong elements to the neighborhood and increase the risk of home invasions," said Alicia Key, a nurse and Calumet Heights resident for the last 42 years. "It's too easy to steal someone's belongings and get rid of it at a pawn shop."
Her preference for the empty retail space at 95th & Jeffery Shopping Center, 2065 E. 95th St. is a health clinic.
"There are no health clinics between 95th and Stony Island and 95th and Commercial. What about those of us who live in the middle? We need health care too," added Key.
Business owner Tony Bae agreed.
"A pawn shop would create more crime and there's enough of that already," added Bae, a part owner of Classic Fashions. "A bank used to be there and I wouldn't mind seeing another bank move in."
And one business owner said he changed his support for the proposal after his customers voiced their opposition.
"Initially I supported a pawn shop because it would bring more traffic to the mall," said Tearched Scott II, owner of Great Scott Records. "But once I found out that my customers, who live around here, were against it, I changed my mind.
Scott had just one idea for the space.
"A soul-food restaurant is what I would like to see go there. Preferably a black-owned restaurant," added Scott. "There are no sit-down restaurants in Jeffrey Manor unless you count White Castle."