Candidates clash over liquor license in 49th Ward

On a two block stretch of N. Clark Street, the first battle of two 49th Ward aldermanic candidates is shaping up. Incumbent Alderman Joe Moore and challenger Jim Ginderske are facing off on the issuance of two new liquor licenses to existing businesses on that street.

The story began last November when Awad Odeh, owner of El Mexicano Grocery, requested that the alderman lift the ban on new liquor licenses which had been in place since before Moore first took office.

Dennis’ Place for Games, a neighborhood icon at 6701 N. Clark had closed and Odeh saw this as an opportunity to expand his store at 6703 N. Clark. He wanted the ban lifted to transfer the liquor license from one address to the other. In November 2005, Moore held a community meeting to gauge community support.

Julie Kilzer, a nearby resident who, with her husband, owns the Taste of Peru on Clark St., says Moore told her they put up flyers in the neighborhood, though she doesn’t recall seeing them. She said he also told her he called her husband but he denies receiving a call. At the meeting it was agreed that Odeh would have a six month trial period and then the issue would be revisited.

According to Moore, the moratorium is set up for two block stretches along the length of Clark Street. This is a strategy recommended by the liquor commission to enable bans to be lifted for sections of the street should businesses change hands or circumstances change, without the ban having to be lifted the entire length of the ban.

“Once the ban is lifted it can’t be re-imposed for a year,” Moore said. When asked if he would re-impose the ban he said, “Of course.” The ban was lifted in February 2006.

Another meeting was held in May of 2006 which Kilzer was again unable to attend.

In April, during the trial period, a violation of selling alcohol to minors occurred at this location. Kilzer contends that should have been a black mark on Odeh, but the Chicago Liquor Commission considered it a violation against the previous owner because the license had not yet been granted to Odeh.

In July, remodeling began on the storefront at 6701 N. Clark. Features of the new store included huge walk-in coolers and numerous shelves. On the storefront was a sign that said “liquor license applied for.” When Kilzer saw that there was a forty day period to object, she started circulating a petition.

In August, at a National Night Out celebration, Kilzer said many people complained to Moore about the license. She said Moore told her everything was done by the book, meetings were held, and there was nothing he could do.

Moore verified this when I asked him, saying that liquor licenses are not something that Aldermen have input on.

Kilzer collected more than 250 signatures on the petition and the license was denied. Her problem with the liquor store has little to do with the owner and more to do with the crime that accompanies these stores.

“We have had people passéd out on the street in front of our restaurant,” she said. Residents have also complained about public urination and public drunkenness. From December 6 to December 7, three felony narcotics arrests were made in the immediate vicinity of the two block stretch where the ban was lifted.

Then La Bonita, a food mart at 6761 N. Clark, owned by Humara Nayeb, also applied for a liquor license. Kilzer said she saw the legal notice in the paper, but when she went by the store, she did not see the license applied for sign which is required by the liquor commission.

When she went by the store again on her way home, she found it on the floor hidden by a garbage can. She has gone by several more times and each time found it on the floor with a piece of tape on it.

“It’s amazing that the “Elect Joe Moore” signs never fall down but the liquor license applied for sign can’t seem to stay put.”

Jim Ginderske, who is running against Moore, took up the cause and was at the Metra station in Rogers Park on Wednesday passing out flyers. His flyer said, “Increasing the availability of inexpensive liquor in our community is an offensive and destructive idea, and I oppose it.”

“There are five liquor sales outlets in the immediate vicinity, and persistent street crime issues are often aggravated by low cost liquor establishments. Also, in Rogers Park substance abuse and homelessness are serious ongoing concerns, and I cannot in good conscience support further marketing of cheap alcohol in our neighborhood.”

Ginderske, a resident of the 49th Ward, is joining many citizens in signing a petition to block the plan and is requesting concerned citizens write letters to the Chicago Liquor Commission. He vowed that if he is elected, he will re-establish the liquor license moratorium that “protected Clark Street for years.”

Moore took exception to Ginderske’s handout and on Thursday, his staff was also at the Metra train station.

Moore’s flyer accuses Ginderske of lies in his leaflet and his workers said they were passing this out to set the story straight. His flyer charges that Ginderske deliberately misled the voters “in an attempt to further his candidacy for public office.”

According to Moore’s flyer, he informed the Commission that he opposes the application for 6761 N. Clark Street and urged the applicant to withdraw it.

He also asserts that he asked Odeh to refrain from selling single cans of beer, malt liquor and inexpensive half-pints at his 6703 N. Clark Street store. He claims Odeh has complied and an inspection confirmed that.

Moore’s flyer also states that 911 records show Odeh called thirty-two times in the last year and 24th District police officers report “no trouble with this store.

At the Clark Street festival this past summer, this newspaper reported that the El Mexicano restaurant was giving away free shots of tequila on the street and selling fifths of tequila. Police District Commander Bruce Rottner (24th) himself, advised the restaurant that if they did not immediately cease and desist they would be shut down. He said “I remember signing permits for beer, but I didn’t sign any for tequila.” The restaurant complied.

Moore’s flyer also points out that security cameras, paid for and installed by the Clark Street Special Service Area, are posted on the corner and the police report no gang or drug activity, seemingly counter to the records on I-Cam from the first week of December.

In response to Moore’s charges, Ginderske released a video which showed four cans of beer being purchased and half-pints visible from outside the shop. Local business owners were also interviewed. All were against the liquor license, their concerns related to liquor and crime. The video can be seen here on YouTube.

Kilzer says if they are to defeat the appeal of the El Mexicano license, the liquor commission advised her they will need about 20 people to show up at the hearing in January. The date is yet unknown.

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Correction

This story erroneously reported the circumstances under which Odeh sought a liquor license. Odeh first applied for a license in early 2005, when he sought to assume ownership of the El Mexicano grocery.

The article also misstated the date of the first community meeting that addressed Odeh's request. The meeting took place in May 2005, not in November 2005.

The article was also unclear on Ald. Joe Moore's position on Odeh's application. Moore supported Odeh's first application, but opposed the second application, which requested permission to expand the grocery into the space formerly occupied by Dennis' Place for Games.

Additionally, the article erroneously reported that alleged liquor violations at Odeh's business occurred during his probationary operation of the El Mexicano grocery. The violations occurred in April 2006, after the trial period had ended.


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