CHICAGO — Standing outside a Near West Side liquor store that's been a source of trouble in the neighborhood, Richard Walker has seen all sorts of shady characters pass by.
"Stick-'em-up folks," people gambling, people with nothing to do, is how he described some of those who are at times outside Adam's Food and Liquors on Western Avenue.
So the findings of a Northwestern University study that linked proximity to liquor stores and bars to shootings on the West and South sides didn't surprise the 64-year-old crossing guard.
"The liquor store is the most dangerous place to go. It's somewhere that's open 24 hours a day. What kind of person in their right mind is out here at 1 in the morning?" said Walker. "You don't know what evil is lurking in the dark."
People are 20 to 500 times more likely to be shot if they are near a liquor store or tavern in certain Chicago neighborhoods, according to a study presented at a conference Wednesday by Dr. Marie Crandall, a professor of surgery at the Feinberg School and a physician at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.
"If you don't believe that, just stand here long enough, and you'll see it. They'll come shooting up like it's Baton Rouge. That's the honest-to-God truth. Stand out here and watch," said Walker. "If you don't hear any gun shots or shootings, I'll kiss your butt on State Street at noon."
Walker said he did not believe the shootings are linked to alcohol consumption. He attributed them to "people being stupid."
An employee at Adam's Food and Liquors agreed.
"Our opinion is you can get shot anywhere in the neighborhood. As long as there's two gangs shooting, anyone can get shot," said the employee, who refused to give his name. "It has nothing to do with us. It's the gangs around here."
In fact, the employee said, people know not to shoot around the store because, "We call cops, and we pull footage" from surveillance cameras facing the front of the store.
There was no link between shootings and liquor stores or taverns in other neighborhoods, a statement from Northwestern said.
The neighborhoods where liquor stores are the highest predictor of gunshot wounds are portions of Austin, West Garfield Park, North Lawndale, Ashburn, Washington Park, and Auburn Gresham.
"It makes sense," Crandall said in the statement about the study, which looked at 11,700 shootings between 1999 and 2009. "You're adding alcohol to an already volatile situation in a distressed community."
Crandall said the neighborhoods are distressed because of "high rates of unemployment, faltering economies, loss of jobs and institutionalized poverty and racism."
Crandall said a solution could be closing liquor stores in certain areas or replacing them with grocery stores.
Tanveer Ali contributed reporting.