CITY HALL — A controversial store on a ward boundary made its case to remain open at a city hearing Tuesday, but it faces new steps to comply with neighborhood concerns.
Armitage Food at 3635 W. Armitage Ave., also known as the Lucky 7, has shown substantial compliance with 12 "reasonable steps" the city set for it to remain open at a hearing in April, city officials said.
"I'm happy with what you're doing," said Vera Elue, hearing officer for the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection. "So far things are going very well."
Elue set a series of new conditions for the store to meet before a follow-up hearing in July, and denied the store's request to return to a 7 a.m. opening after being forced to remain closed until 10 a.m.
"By opening at 10 o'clock, they're going broke," said Richard Kaplan, the store's attorney. "Our competitors in the neighborhood are opening three hours earlier."
First Ward Ald. Joe Moreno backed Elue's denial of the 7 a.m. opening.
"I know you want to open early," Moreno said. "It's not appropriate at this time."
Moreno filed a complaint against the store in February, leading to the city nuisance hearings. Although the store is technically in the 26th Ward, Moreno said his nearby constituents were complaining about gang activity outside the store, which also attracted the homeless and heavy drinkers, attributed to its former 7 a.m. opening.
The store had its opening moved back to 10 a.m. as a result of the April hearing, and also was asked to hire security and install extra security cameras, as well as post no-loitering signs. The store also was asked to give its cashiers alcohol-sales training and attend local community-policing meetings.
On Tuesday, Sgt. Tim Weiglein of the Grand Central Police District testified there were "no reported incidents" and "no activity at that address." He added that "the building is clear of graffiti," and no-loitering signs have been posted.
But Zach Abel, a community-policing beat facilitator in the neighboring Shakespeare District, said the store is far from problem-free.
"There clearly is a problem that is still going on, because of cheap liquor," Abel said.
Kurt Gippert, a Humboldt Park community leader, said police should "expand the reach" of their search of 911 calls about the store to those made from surrounding blocks. And he worried that "we will see an uptick ... now that the weather is getting warmer."
Gippert said he sought to "effect permanent change," adding, "People are raising their families here."
Alex Huebner, a beat facilitator in the Grand Central District, said there had been two recent shootings in the area, last month and on Sunday, although he granted that "gang loitering is down" at the store.
"What I've seen so far is a positive trend," Elue said. "Don't go backward. Just keep going forward."
She urged the store to connect its new security cameras with the Office of Emergency Management and Communications' network, as well as to maintain its hours from 10 a.m. to 2 a.m., complete alcohol-sales training and attend community-policing and business meetings.
The many demands imposed on the store led to complaints from another store attorney, David Kugler, leading to a brief dust-up with Moreno.
"This guy does this at every single meeting," Moreno said said of Kugler's complaints.
"Alderman, look in a mirror," Kugler replied.
The hearing ended calmly enough, after Moreno said, "It seems like there are steps in the right direction" and that he was "cautiously optimistic" the store would be a good neighbor.
"This is one of the better meetings we've had," Moreno said afterward. "That's what this process is for, is to bring them in compliance, to make them a good attribute to the community, not to shut them down. That's the last resort."
Moreno has sparred with Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26th) over the store and has drawn attention to campaign contributions store owners have made to Maldonado. Maldonado did not attend Tuesday's hearing.
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