LOGAN SQUARE — Two aldermen are squaring off over a controversial liquor store in Logan Square, with Ald. Joe Moreno (1st) taking the unusual step of calling for public nuisance hearings for a business outside his ward.
The business at the center of the controversy, Armitage Food, also known as the Lucky 7, is at 3635 W. Armitage Ave. in Ald. Roberto Maldonado's 26th Ward. But it sits not far from Moreno's ward, and he said his constituents have come to him to complain about it.
So Moreno said he plans to go over Maldonado's head to have hearings about Armitage Food. Maldonado, however, said his office hasn't received any complaints about the store, and he wishes his fellow alderman had "more knowledge" about it.
The owners of Armitage Food did not return repeated messages seeking comment on the controversy.
More than 30 residents gathered at Weegee's Lounge Thursday night to talk to Moreno about Armitage Food, which they said attracts people who hang out outside the store to drink.
Moreno told the crowd that he would move to put Armitage Food to so-called deleterious impact status "immediately." He plans to propose the move to the City Council next Wednesday, he said.
The public nuisance ordinance provides a platform for community members to voice their complaints to the city's Department of Business & Consumer Affairs, and can even lead to a business losing its liquor or business license if conditions don't improve.
Maldonado said he will not support Moreno's ordinance.
"I wish [Moreno] would talk about this location with more knowledge," Maldonado said Wednesday. "I bet you he has never driven by [the store]. I think it would be irresponsible on my part [to put the business through the public nuisance process]. I don’t have any empirical evidence to go after them."
Residents said they've seen plenty of evidence.
Eric Hudson said he lives within blocks of the liquor store and has dealt with a homeless population that hangs around it.
"This liquor store has been the bane of my existence and a bane to a lot of people on the block," Hudson said.
Residents complained of activities they say they see happening outside the store, including public drinking, drug sales, threats and loitering in alleys. Two vacant homes near the store have been subsequently torn down after neighborhood complains.
Chicago Police Officer Cynthia Flores said police supported moving the business into deleterious impact status, but she didn't have official police reports with her at the meeting to back up resident's claims. She said the last report made was in December.
Maldonado did not attend the meeting Thursday but said the business has been approached by his office in the past and cleaned up its act in a reasonable timeframe. He said police have told him in the past there was no more than a half-dozen complaints against the store.
"I talked to the business manager and he took steps — I said, 'Hey, I'm not in the business of closing businesses down but I am in the business of making sure they act in a responsible way,' " Maldonado said.
Moreno said the public nuisance ordinance can be introduced by any alderman regardless of what ward a nuisance in. The move would force the business into a minimum of three meetings with the community where a "plan of process" agreement could limit what sorts of liquor is sold on premises — a process he said he initiated for other businesses on four occasions, one of which removed the liquor license from the Congress Theater in May 2013.
Aldermen getting involved in neighborhood issues outside their ward is rare in Chicago, but Moreno said his constituents' complaints prompted his action.
About half of those present Thursday supported shutting the store down completely while the other half would like to see it work more closely with neighbors. Half of the those present identified themselves as living in Moreno's ward.
"If they're rational and they want to keep their business, they'll change their ways," Moreno said. "If not, we've got a lot of hammers to shut them down."