Civic leaders, block clubs, and city officials celebrated success in a 3-year grassroots battle to close a problem liquor store in East Garfield Park. Responding to complaints and demands from neighbors and police, Alderman Robert Fioretti, the Department of Buildings, and the Department of Business Affairs & Consumer Protection worked to document both the poor condition of the building housing Willis Liquor & Sundries at 2901 West Madison Street, and the problems plaguing the neighborhood because of the way the business was operated and the unsavory elements it attracted.
The business was closed by the Department of Buildings and the Circuit Court because of the condition of the structure. More than 40 code violations were lodged against the business. Two community meetings were held with the Business Affairs Department. Area residents complained that the store sold liquor to minors and gangbangers, and attracted prostitutes, drug dealers, and thieves to the neighborhood.
Finally, the owner of Willis Liquor surrendered his licenses and ended his attempts to reopen. The building is now in Demolition Court as the City pursues efforts to tear it down.
Malik Elliott, East Garfield Park Commercial District Manager, says, “This is not about closing stores, but about making store owners more accountable.” Ald. Fioretti says he is working to bring more convenience stores into the community.
The Garfield Park Conservatory Alliance, as lead agency for the East Garfield Park New Communities Program, a long-term project of Local Initiatives Support Corporation/Chicago (LISC) to promote comprehensive community development, supported the citizen campaign to close Willis Liquor and is working with residents, City, and Chamber of Commerce to design a viable business plan for the Madison Street commercial corridor.
In the past year, a coalition of block clubs on Monroe, Wilcox, and Adams has been collaborating to address crime, organize neighborhood cleanups, create community gardens on empty lots, and pressure absentee owners to secure their vacant buildings. The Monroe, Wilcox & Adams Block Club is a diverse mix of residents representing a strong commitment to their neighborhood.
John Perryman, who lives behind Willis Liquors, says there are a lot of empty lots in the area, so he wants to see people buy them and build businesses. He says he also wants families to move into the many vacant houses in the area.