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Aldermen want to tighten grip on all-night convenience stores

Chicago convenience stores would need city approval to stay open all night, approval that would be granted only if operators have a plan to minimize “noise and disturbances,” under a crackdown proposed this week by a handful of aldermen.

Ald. Walter Burnett (27th) suggested tightening the reins on all-night convenience stores on the same day that the City Council empowered Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy to shut down bars with a history of police incidents and keep them closed for up to six months.

The ordinance states that, “In order to reduce noise and disturbances in and near residential districts, a retail food establishment whose primary business activity is the service of prepared food to the public shall not be open for business … between the hours of 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. without permission from the commissioner of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection.”

For permission to stay open all night, convenient store operators must submit a written application that includes:

  • A list of all residential units — by address and number of units within a building — within 660 feet of any portion of the building that includes the convenience store.
  • A plan for minimizing noise and disturbances associated with the operation.
  • A description of the convenience store premises, including seating capacity, points of ingress and egress, parking facilities, outdoor lighting and other descriptive information required by the commissioner.

The commissioner of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection would then review the store’s “setting” and “proximity to residences and hospitals” along with the establishment’s history of “public complaints of noise and other disturbances” before deciding whether to grant special licenses that do not adversely impact the “peace and quiet of the local community.”

The local aldermen would be notified. City Hall would also be empowered to order notices sent to residential units listed in the application by first-class mail, offering them an opportunity to respond within 15 days.

Burnett was out of town and unavailable for comment.

Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) said she joined five colleagues in co-signing the ordinance because of the problems created by an all-night convenient store at 43rd Street and Indiana Avenue that has since closed.

The store used to lock its doors at around 11 p.m. and “open a window where people could walk up and purchase things” all night long, the alderman said.

“That created a lot of problems for the community in terms of loitering. We had people selling drugs outside the store. The store had a number of violations. It ended up on our flagged business list. They were doing things inside as well and yet, they had the ability to stay open during non-business hours,” Dowell said.

“My goal is not to stop stores from being open all night. But I want to have advance knowledge this is the kind of business they intend to operate so I can talk to them about my expectations and my community’s expectations about being a good business person. I want to make sure they have a relationship with the local police commander’s people and attend business meetings that different police districts have. That way, we set some clear expectations for their behavior.”

Ousted West Side Ald. Deborah Graham (29th) co-signed the ordinance at her last City Council meeting because she, too, has struggled with all-night convenience stores on Madison Street and on Chicago Avenue.

“People are hanging out at these stores at all hours of the night. Accidents and shootings happen. When people get up the next morning to go to work, there’s trash all over the street,” Graham said.

“It’s perceived that something illegal is happening. Why else would a crowd be hanging out at two or three o’clock in the morning? I suppose there could be people getting up going to work who need to stop at these places. But these stores need to be productive and safe. We don’t want the nuisance to take place.”

Two years ago, security concerns prompted Graham to try to rein in the time-honored Chicago tradition of allowing restaurant patrons to B.Y.O.B. — bring your own bottle — in precincts voted dry; such precincts now cover 12 percent of the city.

She was forced to lower her sights and settle for a watered-down version that exempted restaurants after the more sweeping crackdown touched a nerve with colleagues who accused her of going too far, potentially putting catering places out of business.

They argued that BYOBs bring foot traffic to commercial strips and that, by attracting crowds, promote safety. Mayor Rahm Emanuel agreed, prompting Graham to pull the plug on the ordinance.