CHATHAM — A vacant auto repair shop in Chatham is being redeveloped into a new title loan store, generating mixed reactions about its value to the community.
The store at the corner of 87th Street and Cottage Grove Avenue is set to open in April and will be the first Chicago store by Speedy Cash, a national lender headquartered in Wichita, Ks.
Ald. Michelle Harris (8th), whose ward includes the store, said it would become the fourth short-term loan store in her ward.
"I would have rather had anything else built there that would have been a fit in for the community," Harris said. "I feel like I don't have a choice [in the matter]. I don't control the process."
She added that she has not had a lot of complaints from her constituents about the loan store.
And regardless of what some residents may think about title loan stores, Harris said "there's no place in the black community that exists to help folks that need money."
The store will be located between a Seaway Bank and Trust Co. branch to the east and PNC Bank to the west, and is also across the street from a strip mall anchored by Target.
"Traditional banks hold a process for people that have great credit," Harris said. "But what about the population of people that have nowhere to go? What are they going to do?"
Bill Baker, a spokesman for Speedy Cash, did not return phone calls seeking comment.
The store is being designed by Menemsha Development Group Inc. and Michael Bowens, a supervisor with the California firm, said he is happy to see Speedy Cash take a vacant building and put it back on the tax rolls.
Bowens said 10 employees have been hired from the Chatham area, and customers using title loan stores are able to improve their credit, thus allowing them to possibly qualify for a more traditional bank loan.
And even though the store is not open yet Bowens said at least one person a day stops by to inquire about a loan.
Jerod Hawkins, 25, is one of those potential customers. He stopped by Monday looking to get a quick loan using his 2001 Pontiac Grand Am as collateral.
"My unemployment ran out and I need a little help this month paying my rent," said Hawkins, a Grand Crossing resident. "Frankly, I don't see anything wrong with title loans. It's not like someone is putting a gun to your head and forcing you to take out a loan."
Unlike most payday loan stores that require customers to have a specific monthly income, title loan stores only require an auto title to secure a loan. So if a customer defaults on a loan the store gains ownership of the vehicle.
And for that reason Roosevelt Vonil, president of the nonprofit Greater Chatham Alliance, said he is opposed to title and payday loan stores.
"They ... [put] people in a bad position," Vonil said. "What we need around here is a community credit union that has easy lending terms."
Melinda Kelly, executive director of the Chatham Business Association, was unavailable for comment.
Four blocks away from the title loan store at 8357 S. Cottage Grove Ave. is Check n' Go, a payday loan store, something Ann Gore said is not needed.
"We don't need any more title loans or places selling lottery tickets," said Gore, 57, who has lived in Chatham for seven years. "I would have preferred a job training center or something to help people find jobs. That's what is missing in Chatham."