Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Time For Something New

Last night, I attended a community meeting regarding whether or not the community supports lifting the packaged liquor store license moratorium in a specific area right around the corner from our home.

It was loud and long. As reported by Benjamin Woodard, over 100 people attended. My wife, our next door neighbor and our upstairs neighbors joined me as well.

The meeting degenerated into a forum questioning the right of the owner of 6800 North Sheridan (represented by MARC Realty) to decline to renew the lease of the liquor store currently in that building, called Isam's. The store's owner Sam Sadaqa really rallied the troops for this one. Nearly every person who stood up to speak expressed their displeasure that the current liquor store is closing.

The problem is, though, is that Isam's is done, regardless. The landlord indicated that lease negotiations fell through and thus, Isam's will be leaving the building irrespective of any other action taken or not taken. Meaning, the choices before the community are basically, do you want a new liquor store or no liquor store. This was lost on the crowd.

A number of people were trying to defend this store as being a useful source of food for the community. Sorry, but I strongly disagree with that. As my wife pointed out, the store has long been dirty and run down inside. It's been that way the entire time we've lived around the corner from it. And regardless of claims to the contrary, Isam's isn't really a place where you would want to buy food. As this Yelp reviewer states, "The "food" bit of Isam's Food & Liquor is non-existent, or should be. You don't want to touch those dusty groceries." The inside of this store hasn't seen a fresh vegetable in years, and I'd be afraid to buy even a frozen pizza here. Bad food options are plentiful nearby. There's a 7-11 across the street, and there's Sonny's just up the street. But there are better choices very nearby as well. The wonderful Morse Fresh Market is only a few blocks away -- I walk up there all the time to pick up vegetables and other staples. (And I'm not some food snob -- ask my wife. Our shopping is primarily split between Dollar Tree, Family Dollar, and Morse Fresh Market. I don't have a lot of extra grocery dollars to throw around.)

So, let's forget about the food. What about the liquor? This Yelp reviewer has it right, they have the world's largest crappy wine selection, and by the way, almost all of the bottles are dusty. Got a friend coming by, and you want to pick up a nice bottle of bourbon? Sorry, they've only got Jim Beam. And what's up with beer prices? This Yelp reviewer echoes what I've heard from a few different prices: Beer prices there are variable and/or higher than average.

I'd already given up on the store, myself. We jump in the car or jump on the bus and go somewhere else when we want to restock, because the quality and selection at Isam's just hasn't ever been that great. (Unless you're looking for half pints, which the store has in abundance.)

So, it's time for something else, and that's why I voiced my support for removing the package store moratorium, allowing the building owners to proceed with leasing part of the space to Pradeep Patel, who says he will be opening a more upscale liquor store, similar to his "Red Violin" liquor store, elsewhere in the neighborhood. That store opened over some vocal community opposition, but has gotten positive reviews. A commenter on that DNAInfo article explained, "I've been to this liquor store and despite the many objections by the local tee-totalers, it's actually a nice shop!" Another agreed. "This is a luxury goods store, not some corner crime magnet." That echoes my experience as well. I've been in to Red Violin on two different occasions and I liked what I saw. (I haven't been there more often as it's not geographically convenient for me.)

Here's to hoping that Mr. Patel gets a chance to apply for a packaged goods license at that location. If not, let the space empty out and give the building owner an opportunity to clean it up and lease it out to someone else. The building owner and management have done great work improving the rest of the commercial spaces (and attracting interesting tenants like SP Kebab and Ciao Bella Cafe). I hope that trend continues.