EZ Pawn is an Austin, Texas based company that has been opening stores in the Chicago are withing the past few years. In some wards, people are fighting mad. NBC 5 Investigates Carol Marin talks to residents and alderman why the is so much debate about these pawn shops.
Up and down the block where Jennifer and Donald Glover live are signs in the window. “No Pawn Shop” they state. The pawn shop they are fighting will be located in the 6400 block of North Avenue, a few blocks from their home.
Workers have been busy getting a vacant store in the strip mall ready for a new EZ Pawn. And the Glover’s think when it opens it will corrode the value of the neighborhood.
“Definitely, definitely,” said Jennifer Glover.
It will be one of a number of new pawnshops the Austin, Texas based company has in the works for Chicago. There are currently 6 EZ Pawns, located on the south and west sides of the city. Five more, like the one on North Avenue, are on the drawing board.
Donald Glover believes the company has a not-so-secret weapon, which has allowed them to receive the required special zoning permit to open a pawnshop.
“EZ pawn is represented by Victor Reyes,” he said, adding what he thinks Reyes brings to this discussion. “It’s clout,” he replied.
Reyes was the main man behind the now defunct Hispanic Democratic Organization, a political powerhouse that helped Richard M. Daley win re-election as mayor over and over.
Now Reyes is the registered city hall lobbyist for EZ Pawn.
The North Avenue store is going in over the strong objection of the sitting alderman, Nick Sposato.
“Community doesn’t want it. Plan and simple,” said the 36th Ward alderman.
But in 2015, when Chicago’s new ward boundaries go into effect, the store won’t be in Sposato’s ward anymore, but in Deborah Graham’s 29th Ward.
“I know that the community doesn’t like them,” Graham said in an interview in her city hall office. Still she favored allowing a business to open in an 8000-square-foot building that had been vacant for over 4 years.
“When you drive down North Ave there are over 20 vacant store fronts,” she said. “We wish we could have got a different business but it does fill a vacancy.”
In February, Graham held a community meeting. And the Glover’s were there.
“They were told the community didn’t want it,” Glover said.
According to state records, Victor Reyes firm, Reyes-Kurson, paid $2,100 to Graham’s ward organization to cover expenses for community meetings.
“It may not look good but it was not an illegal thing to do,” she said.
Campaign disclosure records show EZ Pawn’s political contributions include $3000 to Alderman Ed Burke’s Burnham Committee. There’s an EZ Pawn in his 14th ward. Alderman Burke did not respond to our request.
Then there is 30th Ward alderman Ariel Reboyras.
In a May 2012 letter he “strongly opposed” a new EZ Pawn in the 5400 block of West Belmont, which for now is in the 38th Ward.
Four months later----on the same day in September---Reboyras’ ward organization reported $1500-dollar contributions from both EZ Pawn and Victor Reyes’ firm.
Does the alderman still oppose the EZ Pawn, which will be in his ward come 2015?
He canceled a scheduled interview.
EZ Pawn declined to be interviewed but in an e-mail statement said of its 31 Chicagoland stores:
“We place stores where we believe we have a good fit within the community…We strive to be a community partner and a good neighbor…”
“They are a steamroller in terms of getting what they want here in Chicago,” said Sherrin Dunn. She lives in the 15th ward where a new EZ Pawn is in the works at 6722 South Western Avenue. Dunn presented the Zoning Board of Appeals petitions signed by more than 500 in opposition.
Her 15th Ward Alderman, Toni Foulkes, is against it, too, writing in a letter to the Zoning Board of Appeals, “I have to agree with the residents of the communities that this would not be a good choice of business in this area.”
But Dunn says EZ Pawn had an important ally: the alderman taking over this area in 2015: Latasha Thomas, who is also Of Counsel to Reyes-Kurson.
Victor Reyes declined to speak on camera but said by phone pawnshops provide a service to the community and called it an elitist statement to say pawnshops have a negative impact on communities.
Alderman Thomas wrote in an e-mail she was not involved with the Zoning Board of Appeals decision to grant the EZ Pawn application.
For now ground zero is the fight over the EZ Pawn on North Avenue, where a lawsuit has been filed trying to stop the store from opening.
If it does open, it will be the fifth pawnshop in a two-block radius.
And residents don’t like it.
“Having a congregation of pawnshops makes the neighborhood look like its poverty stricken,” said Francis Sapone.
“The place is in the process of opening now but this is not going to go away. We, we don’t quit, said Donald Glover.