UKRAINIAN VILLAGE — The Cubs playoff game did not deter an impassioned group of residents from packing a church basement Thursday to oppose a liquor license request from the proposed "Olive Branch Neighborhood Market" at Ukrainian Village's main intersection.
The gathering at St. Helen School, 2347 W. Augusta Blvd. was hosted by the Ukrainian Village Neighbors Association and included Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) and Harlan Powell, a lawyer for Irar "Ira" Sweiss.
Sweiss, who did not attend the meeting, wants to open Olive Branch Neighborhood Market at the northwest corner of Damen and Chicago avenues.
Located at the base of a building at 2000 W. Chicago Ave. the storefront has been empty for two years since Red Apple Convenience, also owned by Sweiss, closed.
Red Apple opened in late 2011 and in Dec. 2012 was denied a packaged good liquor license by the Dept. of Consumer Affairs and Business Protection because it would "create a law enforcement problem," Our Urban Times reported.
Powell said the proposed market would sell made-to-order sandwiches and coffee as well as beer, wine and liquor.
There would be no seating and Sweiss has agreed to close by midnight daily, Powell said.
Powell said that Sweiss wants the store to be "seen as a positive asset" and he's worked on a set of terms and conditions, called a Plan of Operation, that would be attached to the liquor license, such as agreeing not to sell high-alcohol content fortified wines or flavored tobacco.
Powell declined to share copies of the Plan of Operation or renderings of the proposed market but said that Sweiss is prepared to make $250,000 in renovations to the 2,000-square-foot storefront.
The building is owned by Armando Almazan, who was not at the meeting.
Powell said that the reason why Almazan and Sweiss did not attend is because the purpose of the discussion was for him to get feedback from neighbors and bring it back to his client.
Residents aired several complaints.
"This seems very loose to me," Tim Fox said of the plan. "How is this going to help the community? We don't need a sandwich shop, we don't need a liquor store."
Fox added, "I'm irritated you had me come out. It's a bunch of hot air."
Hopkins, who has not said whether he will support the license, told residents that he can "vouch for the veracity of a Plan of Operation" and will not hesitate to pursue legal action if it the plan is not being followed.
Greg Nagel, a real estate agent, said he is opposed to the license.
"A packaged good license at that corner will drive down property values. We are seeing an incredible transformation in Ukrainian Village and particularly on Chicago Avenue and this type of business will slow down the positive development," Nagel said.
Reached by phone early Friday, Sweiss said, "We want to make it something like Olivia's Market, fresh sandwiches and soup and a large European section with organic and healthy snacks. The alcohol plan is a small part of the entire offering. I understand the neighbors concern with most liquor establishments. We are not carrying any of the low-quality liquors or beers."
Sweiss also said that the store, if it gets a packaged goods license, will install "state-of-the-art cameras and will give unrestricted access to OEMC at the corner."
Sweiss said that he doubts he will apply for the license without the support of neighbors.
"I won't run a successful business without the support of the community," he said, and argued "a lot of community is with me" but that the Cubs game may have kept supporters away.
"The people that showed up [to the meeting] do not know me personally," he said.
Sweiss also owns a Citgo gas station at 1949 W. Augusta Blvd, a few blocks north of the proposed market.
He said that after the packaged goods license was denied in 2012, he kept Red Apple open until the new Mariano's across the street caused too much competition.
"[Mariano's] hurt the business and it slowed down and I was forced to close. I never expected to be closed down for this long," he said.
Sweiss said he has another five years on his lease at 2000 W. Chicago Ave.