Lqrbox
LiqrBox, 873 N. Orleans St., where a man was killed outside the club on Sept. 18, 2021. Under similar circumstances, the Chicago Police Department has ordered the closings of dozens of other businesses linked to shootings. But it didn’t shut down LiqrBox, whose clout-heavy owner runs a string of restaurants and clubs, holds the liquor license for Lollapalooza and is a political contributor to Mayor Lori Lightfoot. Frank Main / Chicago Sun-Times

Police shut down South and West Side businesses over violence — but go easy on clout-heavy bars downtown

Since 2015, the Chicago Police Department has shut down at least 58 businesses, most on the South Side and West Side, after shootings at or near their premises even as violence surged downtown.

LiqrBox, 873 N. Orleans St., where a man was killed outside the club on Sept. 18, 2021. Under similar circumstances, the Chicago Police Department has ordered the closings of dozens of other businesses linked to shootings. But it didn’t shut down LiqrBox, whose clout-heavy owner runs a string of restaurants and clubs, holds the liquor license for Lollapalooza and is a political contributor to Mayor Lori Lightfoot. Frank Main / Chicago Sun-Times
Lqrbox
LiqrBox, 873 N. Orleans St., where a man was killed outside the club on Sept. 18, 2021. Under similar circumstances, the Chicago Police Department has ordered the closings of dozens of other businesses linked to shootings. But it didn’t shut down LiqrBox, whose clout-heavy owner runs a string of restaurants and clubs, holds the liquor license for Lollapalooza and is a political contributor to Mayor Lori Lightfoot. Frank Main / Chicago Sun-Times

Police shut down South and West Side businesses over violence — but go easy on clout-heavy bars downtown

Since 2015, the Chicago Police Department has shut down at least 58 businesses, most on the South Side and West Side, after shootings at or near their premises even as violence surged downtown.

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When a patron of a glitzy Near North Side bar called the LiqrBox was gunned down in the middle of Orleans Street, Chicago police officers spoke with a friend of the man. He told them the Sept. 18, 2021, incident had begun inside the club.

Under similar circumstances, the Chicago Police Department has ordered the closings of dozens of other businesses linked to shootings.

But it didn’t shut down LiqrBox, whose owners include Carmen Rossi, a clout-heavy businessman who runs a string of restaurants and clubs, holds the liquor license for Lollapalooza and is a political contributor to Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

City officials say neither LiqrBox nor other Near North Side businesses have received preferential treatment because of their political clout or the taxes they bring in for City Hall.

And Lightfoot says her ties to Rossi had nothing to do with the police decision not to close the bar.

“I would never allow anyone in my administration to pull any punches based on a perceived relationship with me or with them,” Lightfoot says. “If that was the case, they would be fired immediately. I didn’t know such an establishment existed until this conversation.”

Since 2015, police department records show, at least 57 other Chicago businesses — liquor stores and bars as well as gas stations, restaurants and other establishments — have been shut down as a result of shootings under the city’s summary closure ordinance, enacted that year. The ordinance gives the police department the little-known but immense power to immediately close businesses associated with violence.

Most of those shuttered businesses have been in low-income neighborhoods on the South Side and the West Side, a Chicago Sun-Times investigation has found.

Despite the surge of violence that downtown Chicago has experienced in recent years, it appears from the police records that only one of the businesses the police have shut down was downtown. That was a club called Sound Bar, 226 W. Ontario St., where a security guard was killed and the owner wounded in a shooting in an alley in 2019.

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In other instances, such as the May 19 mass shooting outside a McDonald’s at 10 E. Chicago Ave. in River North, violence prompted inspectors from City Hall, rather than police officials, to visit businesses and order an emergency closing as a result of code violations, city records show. But that’s a less serious outcome than a police summary closure, which one Chicago City Council member calls the “nuclear option.”

The numbers of these business closings, both those ordered by the police and those mandated by city inspectors, have accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic, city records show. Many have involved illegal gatherings in barbershops, garages, towing companies and other businesses.

Critics of the closings say the city’s enforcement actions are selective and unfair.

Asked what the police department’s criteria are for closing a business — and why most of the police shutdowns are in minority areas — a spokesman declines to offer specifics, saying: “The Chicago Police Department issues summary closures in instances where an establishment presents a public safety threat. This is done to protect the people living, working and visiting the areas in which a public safety threat exists. The summary closures are issued in accordance with the city’s municipal code.”

Crime doesn’t always drop after closings

Crime doesn’t always decline on a block after a business is closed, the Sun-Times found by tallying reported crimes on a block during the six months before the police department closed a business and in the six months afterward. Looking at business shutdowns by the police between 2015 and February 2022, the number of crimes before the closings was 1,221. After, it was 928 — just under a 24% decrease.

But there were wide variations. The number of crimes on the block of one closed gas station went from 124 to 15. But the level of crime remained virtually the same or increased after many other businesses were shut down by the police.

Brendan Reilly
Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) wants the police to shut down more rowdy bars than they do. Chicago Sun-Times

Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) says he wonders why the police department doesn’t close more businesses than it does. Reilly, who has routinely complained to police and City Hall about violence and noise tied to some of the early-morning bars in his downtown ward, questions why the police in his ward almost never use the summary closure ordinance, which he calls the “nuclear option.”

“Some of the bar owners are politically active,” Reilly says. “I hope that doesn’t have anything to do with it.”

He says he’s just trying to protect the interests of people who live near those rowdy bars.

“We have condo [owners] who hate me because I can’t close them,” he says.

Double murder at Bucktown bar prompted shutdown ordinance

In early 2015, Reilly and then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel pushed for the summary closure ordinance. It gave the police the authority to immediately close a business because of an illegal discharge of a firearm, aggravated assault or battery or criminal sexual assault on the premises.

The city is then required to hold a hearing within five days. Still, under the ordinance, businesses are closed for up to six months while the owner appeals the decision or works out a nuisance-abatement agreement that would allow the business to reopen. Typically, that involves hiring private security guards, installing surveillance cameras and making other expensive improvements.

Many businesses stay closed for weeks or longer as they work out a deal with the city. Until that happens, a city sticker remains posted on the front door notifying patrons the business is closed.

The ordinance was prompted by a double murder in March 2015 at a Bucktown bar called the Dolphin.

In 2016, using the new summary closure ordinance, police officials closed the Dolphin’s successor, Rio Chicago Lounge, because a patron had been shot at the bar. A man and security guards pointed guns at each other inside the club at 2200 N. Ashland Ave. The man left, then fired shots into the club, wounding the patron, police reports show.

During the previous year, there had been more than 225 emergency calls to 911 about the bar, according to the police.

Andrew Holmes, a volunteer advocate for shooting victims, was a friend of one of the two men killed at the Dolphin in 2015. He supports the summary closure ordinance.

“If you’re having shootings and fights, anything that feeds the violent crime, and [the owner] is just thinking about income, your business needs to be shut down,” Holmes says.

North Side bars tied to Lightfoot not shut down

A shooting at or near a business doesn’t always lead to either a police shutdown or a city inspection that closes it.

LiqrBox and Joy District, a bar at 112 W. Hubbard St., are part of an entertainment empire co-owned by Rossi, a lawyer, lobbyist and nightclub owner. He also owns Hubbard House LLC, which holds the liquor license for Lollapalooza.

Rossi’s businesses have contributed $15,500 this year to Lightfoot’s campaign fund. On Aug. 4, 2021, he wished her a happy birthday in an email, saying, “It was great catching up with you on Sunday at Lollapalooza.”

“Congrats with such a successful weekend, blessed with such perfect weather and an AMAZING boost for the hotel and entertainment district,” said the email, which City Hall released in response to a public records request. “Thank you for your commitment and dedication to our industry.”

Rossi also gave $1,200 to Reilly’s campaign fund three years ago. In recent years, though, Reilly has come down hard on Rossi’s Joy District. On July 1, 2021, Reilly emailed the commander of the 18th police district, which includes River North, saying he worried that “gang affiliates” were frequenting Joy District, which is down the street from the Boss Bar, where Reilly is a regular.

“Over the past week, every hospitality business owner has come to me to complain about the Joy District’s new clientele and the general lawlessness that exists on Hubbard late nights on the weekends,” Reilly wrote. “I am officially sounding the alarm bell that there is a very real and serious threat that this continued lawlessness is going to result in someone getting shot.”

Later that month, that’s what happened. On July 18, 2021, a man was shot and wounded on the sidewalk near Joy District. A security guard for the bar was standing on the sidewalk and saw the gunman run away, according to a police report, which didn’t give a motive for the shooting or say whether the bar had anything to do with it. No arrest was made.

Besides that 2021 shooting, at least six other people have been arrested at the bar in the past three years, including a woman accused of throwing bleach on another woman, three people accused of punching someone and two arrested on charges of illegal gun possession. Most of those cases ended up getting dismissed.

In August 2021, Reilly fired off another email to city officials, saying the situation on Hubbard Street was growing worse.

“I would like to know what the plan is to go after these establishments hosting gangster-rap parties luring gangbangers to this area to act out,” he wrote. “I’d also like to know when Hubbard Street will be safe for tourists, visitors and residents after 9 p.m. at night.”

His complaints did not result in Joy District being shut down by the police or lead to a city building inspection that could prompt an emergency closing.

On Aug. 7, 2020, at the height of the pandemic, Reilly also asked the police to consider closing six downtown hotels he said were “convenient alternatives to bars” because they had slashed their room rates. Early-morning curbside parties outside the hotels were escalating into shootings, stabbings and other violence, he said.

The police didn’t shut down any of them.

Ald. Walter Burnett (27th)
Ald. Walter Burnett (27th). Ashlee Rezin / Chicago Sun-Times

Ald. Burnett: `Why didn’t you close down the bar?’

Ald. Walter Burnett (27th) says he wondered if the police were going to close Rossi’s LiqrBox after a fatal early-morning shooting Sept. 18, 2021, in the 800 block of North Orleans Street in Burnett’s ward.

Royal Shorts, 33, of Hammond, Indiana, was shot around 3:50 a.m. that day after he and a friend were bounced from the club by security guards over an argument involving women, according to the police.

“A close friend of the victim related that the incident started inside the LiqrBox,” a police report said.

Police said someone in a blue Volkswagen sport-utility vehicle shot Shorts, then sped away, leaving seven bullet casings on the street. No one has been charged with the killing.

“I asked the commander, ‘Why didn’t you close down the bar?’ ” Burnett says. “He said it didn’t happen in the bar; it happened in the street. He said it didn’t happen in the club.

“I called Rossi. I said, ‘What’s going on?’ He said some guys got into it, it didn’t happen in my place,” says Burnett, whose campaign fund has gotten $6,500 in contributions from Rossi’s businesses, including the company that owns LiqrBox.

One former LiqrBox neighbor moved away just before the 2021 shooting, in part, she says, over safety concerns.

“It was already a somewhat sketchy area,” the former resident says, speaking on the condition of not being named. “And, in the last couple of years, it sounds like the crime has really picked up over there. And I know a lot of people left my building because of that.”

Asked about the shootings outside his bars and his relationship with the mayor, Rossi declined to respond directly to the questions.

Club owner: His business brings jobs, money

In a written statement, a spokeswoman for Rossi says: “As the hospitality industry in Chicago continues to rebuild after the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic and also deals with the alarming increase in crime (over 200% in River North/Near North), Mr. Rossi remains committed to engaging with the local community and in concert with any necessary agencies to continue to make Chicago a world-class city.”

She also points to the economic impact for the city of the business Rossi brings in.

“The breadth of the hospitality portfolio and related entities employ over 900 individuals who reside throughout the state,” the statement says.

Rossi’s establishments — and his liquor licenses — are regulated by City Hall’s business affairs department, headed by Ken Meyer, a Lightfoot appointee who has hosted parties at Rossi’s bars.

There’s no indication in city records that Meyer’s staff has taken any enforcement actions against LiqrBox or Joy District.

In an interview with the Sun-Times in August, the mayor had acknowledged a rise in violence downtown connected with people who “don’t live in those communities” and said a lot of that crime was linked to businesses with liquor licenses that allow them to stay open later than most other bars, till 4 a.m. or 5 a.m.

LiqrBox is open until 5 a.m. on Saturdays and Joy District until 3 a.m. on Saturdays.

Lightfoot: ‘First priority is public safety’

In that August interview, Lightfoot didn’t single out any bars but said “we got to engage with them in a serious conversation” and that she was willing to forgo revenue for City Hall from those bars “because frankly I’m concerned more about the loss of life.”

In response to questions about the Sun-Times’ findings, Lightfoot reiterated that she wants to crack down on unruly downtown bars with late-night liquor licenses.

“My first priority is public safety,” she says. “I have had extensive conversations with police. They know that I am pushing them to do everything I can to make those areas of the central business district as safe as possible. I am concerned about the number of these places that have these late-night liquor licenses because we’re having problems between 12 a.m. and 5 a.m. These businesses have to step up and do a better job with their security. They need to have cameras and they need to robust screening of the people that enter their establishments.”

police
Chicago police officers at the scene where two people were killed and seven others wounded May 19 near Chicago Avenue and State Street on the Near North Side. Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere / Chicago Sun-Times

Though the records released by the police department show Sound Bar is the only downtown business shut down by the police under the 2015 ordinance, the McDonald’s at 10 E. Chicago Ave. was forced to close when city inspectors found building code violations there the day after a mass shooting May 19 on the sidewalk outside the fast-food restaurant.

Police said gang members from the South Side took the CTA Red Line to the Chicago Avenue subway stop and clashed with people on the sidewalk. There was a gunshot, but no one was hit.

Twenty minutes later, one of the South Side men, Jaylun Sanders, opened fire on the sidewalk near McDonald’s, killing two people and wounding seven, a prosecutor later said in court. Sanders, who’s charged with first-degree murder, was armed with a handgun converted into a machine gun, the prosecutor said.

North Side McDonald’s shut down —but not over mass shooting

After that shooting, City Hall sprang into action.

On May 20, Meyer emailed colleagues that the McDonald’s owner, Nick Karavites, employed about 70 people at the restaurant at 10 E. Chicago Ave. and operates a string of McDonald’s in Chicago, including the restaurant at 600 N. Clark St. once known as the Rock N Roll McDonald’s, as well as the restaurant inside McDonald’s world headquarters at 1035 W. Randolph St.in the West Loop.

“Nick will be very cooperative,” Meyer said in the email.

About half an hour later, Meyer emailed that he was concerned that Loyola University Chicago, whose Water Tower campus is a block north on Pearson Street, “has been working with neighbors all day to not only petition the mayor closing down the McDonald’s but closing down the Red Line at 7 p.m.” Meyer asked a colleague to contact Loyola “so they don’t get to the mayor first.”

notice to close
The notice to close the McDonald’s at 10 E. Chicago Ave. for building code violations. Chicago Sun-Times

Nearly two hours later, the mayor was notified by email about the code violations that led to the city’s emergency closing of the McDonald’s.

City inspectors cited numerous building code violations, such as debris blocking an electrical panel, a missing carbon monoxide detector, inoperable emergency lights and an unapproved hand sink drain.

But the inspection report didn’t mention the mass shooting.

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City officials also met with Loyola University and other businesses and property owners in the area about their concerns over crime near the McDonald’s.

Asked about the shooting, Loyola officials say: “The university is committed to working with organizations inside and outside Loyola to manage and address issues related to crime and safety. Anything that helps make our neighborhoods safer makes our students safer.”

Owner of busy North Side McDonald’s: Glad to reopen

On June 1, Karavites emailed Meyer to say he was glad to hear the city would let his McDonald’s open, with limited hours, the next day. Karavites said he would “continue to maintain a security staff while my restaurant is open.”

The McDonald’s — one of the fast-food giant’s busiest nationwide — has continued to operate a 24-hour drive-thru. But its dining-room hours have been curtailed, with customers not allowed to eat inside the restaurant between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.

“Outside of the tragic shooting that took place the other day, having my business closed down for this long has put a huge financial burden on myself and on all of my employees,” Karavites said in his email to Meyer.

Less than a month earlier, City Hall inspectors closed another McDonald’s after a shooting. At 5:15 p.m. on April 29, a man fired shots at the McDonald’s at 7832 S. Western Ave.He was in a black Jeep in the parking lot and fired at a woman’s car coming out of the drive-thru. No one was injured. No one has been arrested.

That McDonald’s is right next to St. Rita of Cascia High School, where students were in the middle of playing a baseball game. A video shows the players diving to the ground and running away as the shots came.

On May 6, city inspectors ordered the restaurant closed because of building code violations such as an exit blocked with boxes, a missing carbon monoxide detector, unmaintained emergency lights and exposed wires.

The restaurant passed an inspection about month later and was allowed to reopen, records show. It remains open.

St. Rita says it’s been forced to pay for extra security “at significant cost” because of the shooting.

“As a result of our site assessment we have added additional full-time and part-time security staff and purchased two security vehicles,” St. Rita president John Donahue says. “All of this was done to maintain a safe and secure teaching, athletic and spiritual environment for our students, staff and visitors to our school and shrine.”

Donahue met June 14 with McDonald’s executives.

In an email he later sent to city officials, Donahue said he told the McDonald’s execs the shooting posed an “existential threat” to the St. Rita community.

Donahue also said he told them the school would “continue to analyze police data for this location” — and had even asked that McDonald’s consider relocating the restaurant.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot hugs Ald. Derrick Curtis
Mayor Lori Lightfoot hugs Ald. Derrick Curtis (18th) after he introduced her during a campaign stop June 8 with First Lady Amy Eshleman at Starlight Restaurant, 8300 S. Kedzie Ave. Ashlee Rezin / Chicago Sun-Times

Ald. Derrick Curtis (18th), whose ward includes the high school and the McDonald’s, doesn’t want to see the restaurant relocated.

“Then, you would just have an empty space,” he says.

Curtis says he was happy the police didn’t close the restaurant after the shooting.

“Why would you want to shut it down because of an incident McDonald’s had nothing to do with?” he says. “Like I told the president of St. Rita, there’s more problems from the bus stop directly across the street than the McDonald’s.”

McDonald’s corporate officials didn’t return calls seeking comment about the restaurants at 10 E. Chicago Ave. and 7832 S. Western Ave.

Chris Kempczinski, McDonald’s chief executive officer, speaking
Chris Kempczinski, McDonald’s chief executive officer, speaking before the Economic Club of Chicago on Sept. 14. Pat Nabong / Chicago Sun-Times

McDonald’s CEO: ‘City in crisis’

In a public appearance Sept. 14, though, McDonald’s chief executive officer sounded an alarm, saying rising crime in Chicago is making it harder to do business here. Chris Kempczinski told the Economic Club of Chicago that violence is making it hard to attract employees.

“Everywhere I go, I’m confronted by the same question these days: ‘What’s going on in Chicago?’ ” Kempczinski said. “While it may wound our civic pride to hear it, there is a general sense out there that our city is in crisis.”

In 50-plus other instances since 2015 that a shooting occurred in a business or on the parking lot or a nearby sidewalk, the Chicago police did use their “nuclear option” of summary closure.

Many of the businesses the police shut down were gas stations on the South Side and West Side, owned by Arab Americans.

Ray Hanania, a member of the American Arab Chamber of Commerce of Illinois, says that’s selective enforcement, that they were closed “to make it look like something was being done to stop the gang violence.” But he says most of the violence is out of the owners’ control to stop.

Ray Hanania speaking
Ray Hanania: Arab American owners of gas stations unfairly targeted over violence that was out of their control. Richard A. Chapman / Chicago Sun-Times

“We were the easiest target,” Hanania says. “Arab American business owners don’t generally push back against the city. Gas stations would call me and the chamber and say they were afraid to speak out because the city might make life worse.

“The thing is,” Hanania says, “the store owners are working in areas where a lot of other businesses don’t want to be because of the poverty and crime.”

On May 3, Cory Finley, identified by the police as a gang member, was shot to death while standing outside a Citgo station at Hamlin and Chicago avenues. The police department closed the station the next day, citing about a dozen other crimes there over the previous six months —including the April 25 killing of Delance Wilson after someone in a Ford Explorer opened fire on him near the station.

West Side gas station owner: Closing was financially devastating

Ahmed Mohsin, the owner of the station, says the closing was devastating financially.

“I had to pay for all my employees, eight or nine, for those 18 days,” he says. “Rent, too. I lost a substantial amount of money.”

The station was allowed to reopen after Mohsin agreed to hire 24-hour security.

Burnett says he didn’t understand why Mohsin’s business was closed.

“Me and my staff don’t think the gas station had anything to do with the [May 3] incident, but we don’t fight the police,” he says.

In other cases, some think the police haven’t moved quickly enough to close businesses associated with violence.

Woods Foods and Liquor, at 200 E. 35th St., is a block from Chicago Police Department headquarters. The police shut down the store Feb. 6 after Bobbye Johnson, a grandmother, was fatally shot on the sidewalk.

The police said Victor Brown, a security guard at the Bronzeville store, was aiming for Elbert Duncan, who had shot him, when Brown hit Johnson instead.

Brown is a convicted felon who couldn’t legally own a gun. So was another security guard arrested the previous year for having a firearm in the store.

Brown has been charged with murder.

After Johnson was killed, the owner refused to close voluntarily because the shooting didn’t happen inside the business, police said.

Officers said they returned to the store Feb. 28 and found it wasn’t closed, as ordered. The store previously was shut down by the city in 2018.

Lawyer for slain grandmother’s family: Shut down a bad business sooner

“I feel like the city has a responsibility to make sure its licensed businesses are being run in a way that promotes safety for its citizenry,” says Cannon Lambert Sr., a lawyer for Johnson’s relatives, who have sued the store. “I feel like, when you see a pattern of dangerous circumstances, it’s more than appropriate to do more.”

Attorney Cannon Lambert Sr.
Attorney Cannon Lambert Sr. Anthony Vazquez / Chicago Sun-Times

Few of the business operators who have been shut down by the police would agree to interviews, saying they were afraid of retribution.

But Andres Schcolnik, one of the owners of a building at 6798 S. South Chicago Ave., says he’s resigned to fixing everything the city wants him to do so he can reopen. Schcolnik had leased space to Hardy’s Towing and Recovery, which was closed by the police after 15 people were shot, two fatally, on March 14, 2021 during a party in the building at which more than 100 people were dancing. The police said the Park Manor business didn’t have the proper licenses to host an event where alcohol was served.

City Hall then obtained a permanent injunction against the building owners to prevent anyone from moving in until they fix all of the code violations inspectors have found.

“I could kick and scream because it’s been a year since I’ve been able to rent this building,” Schcolnik says. “Don’t fight it. Just do what they tell you, and it will be over sooner.”

6798 S. South Chicago Ave. on the South Side
6798 S. South Chicago Ave. on the South Side is seen in this photo, Saturday morning, Sept. 10, 2022. Pat Nabong / Chicago Sun-Times

Wicker Park bar owner: Police shutdown a ‘weaponized’ tool

Jun Lin, the owner of The Point, a bar at 1565 N. Milwaukee Ave., says the way the city uses its power to close businesses is arbitrary and unfair — a “weaponized” tool used against certain business owners.

The police department closed his Wicker Park bar Feb. 28 after officers said a patron bought a drink, left, then shot a man inside through a window.

In their summary closing order, police officials noted that last year a man had been fatally shot and four people were wounded standing outside The Point. Those victims were in a bar fight that moved onto the sidewalk, police said.

1565 N. Milwaukee Ave. in Wicker Park.
The Point, 1565 N. Milwaukee Ave. in Wicker Park. Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere / Chicago Sun-Times

Lin fought the police department’s six-month closing order. But an administrative law judge ruled in favor of the city, even though he agreed the bar owner could not have “reasonably anticipated” his patron’s actions in the latest shooting.

Now, Lin is waiting for the OK from the city building department to reopen.

“The city was looking to scapegoat the business and blame the violence on us,” says Lin, who estimates he’s lost $500,000 because of the closing. “We served a drink to someone that didn’t have a weapon, who later on came back and shot at us from across the street.

“It is virtually the same thing as someone robbing a bank [who] happened to have an account in the bank. So you close the bank? If I could get shut down for simply serving a drink, imagine — this law is so arbitrary that the city can weaponize it and literally shut down any business they want.”

Dan Fahner, a lawyer who represents Lin, says The Point was visited by a “parade” of city inspectors after the police closed the club, each time finding a new issue.

Fahner says his client refused to sign a public nuisance-abatement agreement that, among other things, would have required him to provide security for the sidewalk — across the street.

“Placing the blame for Chicago’s rampant violence on the shoulders of the private business owners, particularly in a seemingly arbitrary way, feels punitive,” Fahner says. “At the very least, it’s unfair.”