“Dry” Vote Transforms Ward Precinct

Voters last month approved referendum banning liquor sales in 2nd Precinct of 26th Ward

There's been significant, positive change in Chicago's West Humboldt Park neighborhood since voters took the polls and voted to ban liquor sales in a portion of their ward, residents say.

"Our neighborhood immediately, overnight, transformed.  So the proof was there that this was what we needed to do," said Kurt Gippert, the Executive Director of the United Blocks of West Humboldt Park, a small group of residents who led the effort to get the "vote dry" referendum on last month's ballot.

The impetus for the effort was the crime and violence that seemed to be drawn to Pagan Liquors, at 3251 W. Division St.

Gippert said that when the business was open, people would gather, sell drugs and throw up gang signs.  Even worse, Gippert said that 10 people were shot outside the store during the nine or 10 months the store was open during 2010.  The store was closed for a couple of months due to food and building violations.

"One shooting is one too many.  It's tragic," said Gippert.  "We know the police are understaffed as a whole in the entire city, but in a busy district like this, what it does is it leaves people like us with very few options."

So voters took advantage of a 77-year-old rule on the books which allows precinct residents to ban liquor sales with a referendum.  It was overwhelmingly approved, and the 2nd Precinct of the 26th Ward went dry.

"This is not a small group of people who got organized to push their tiny agenda... A huge number of people wanted this problem solved and understood this was the only way that we, as citizens, could have some aspect of control over our own quality of life and safety and future," said Gippert.

The only possible downside could be the future of a nearby CVS store.  It's the only other outlet within precinct boundaries which sells liquor.  And some residents fear that without the liquor sales, the pharmacy will close and they'd lose easy access to groceries and medicine.

"If they was to close this CVS, then we have to go a little bit further down," said resident Myra Zenon.  "A lot of people don't have cars."

Ald. Roberto Maldanado supported the referendum and told WBEZ radio that CVS shouldn't be open if it depends on liquor sales to remain viable.

CVS officials said there are no plans to close the store.

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