Chicago Bronzeville residents hope liquor ban improves quality of life

Two referendums could be on February ballot

December 1, 2010

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Calumet Food & Liquor

Chicago’s municipal elections are under full swing, and there are all kinds of ideas about how a new mayor and City Council can improve life in neighborhoods. But some residents want more direct change through ballot initiatives. A group of residents in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood wants to vote out a couple of nuisance liquor stores. But not everyone is convinced this is the route to go.

Calumet Food & Liquor is on East 43rd Street, under the Green Line “el” stop.

CUSTOMER: Hey, let me get a four-pack of Colt 45 and a Swisher.

The store provides a convenient place to pick up beer and other drinks, but some neighbors say that creates problems, like public loitering and public drinking.
 
They say they’ve tried to persuade the owner to improve security by putting in cameras or a security guard.
 
That didn’t work, so now they’re turning to politics.
 
The Bronzeville Area Residents and Commerce Council, or BARCC, has submitted petitions to make this precinct dry. If passed, it would get rid of the sale of packaged liquor. Only Calumet Food & Liquor would be affected.
 
I try to get a response from Calumet management.

MOORE: Are you the owner?
MANAGER: No, I’m the manager. I can’t say nothing.
MOORE: Why not?
MANAGER: That’s…too early for it.
 
Calumet’s manager gives me the number of the store’s lawyer … and when I reached him, he’d only say “no comment.”
 
Many professionals moved into Bronzeville with the hope that the neighborhood would reinvent itself. Bronzeville has a rich black history, but crime and disinvestment marred it for decades. Now the tide has somewhat turned.
 
Mell Monroe is president of BARCC. It’s a nonprofit made up mostly of homeowners. Monroe’s fed up with Calumet Food & Liquor.
 
MELL: We want a clear path where people can walk the neighborhood and not hang out. We know that the liquor stores are a magnet for a lot of other stuff.
 
Mell says this “other stuff” includes drug dealing and gang activity.
 
For Mell and his neighbors to win, more than 50 percent of voters have to approve the liquor ban on the February ballot.
 
Third Ward Alderman Pat Dowell hopes that happens.
 
DOWELL: I support these two efforts because the owners of these liquor stores have been unwilling to work with the community to address some of the problems that we have.
 
Dowell’s talking about two referenda: the one that would close Calumet, and another in her ward that’s in a different precinct.
 
In the past few years, six liquor ban referendums have gone up for votes across Chicago. All six passed.
 
Cyd Langston is a Calumet Food & Liquor customer. He says getting rid of a liquor store is shortsighted.
 
LANGSTON: The problem is beyond that. It’s the people. They’ve got mental problems, they’ve got all kinds of drugs on top of that. All kinds of other things happening that needs to be addressed.
 
Langston’s not the only one who wonders whether going dry will really help the neighborhood. And what’s interesting is that some of them are in volunteer community groups.
 
Dhyia Thompson is with Concerned Citizens of Bronzeville. She says members aren’t against the proposed liquor ban referendum. But they aren’t gunning for it, either. Thompson say they they can do more good by focusing on other neighborhood improvements, like beefing up police patrols.
 
THOMPSON: If you’re not creating practical policies and ordinances that really get at the root of the problem, which is resources and really using crime statistics, unemployment rates or whatever it is to allocate resources where they need to be allocated. That’s the bigger issue. We think that the real change happens in government.
 
The irony is that Thompson’s group and the other Bronzeville community group want government to help to improve Bronzeville.
Residents can vote to make a precinct dry but they don’t have the ability to vote more police on the street.