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Wicker Park, Bucktown, West Town

Emporium Arcade Owners’ Plan To Turn Barry’s Drugs Into Recreational Cannabis Dispensary Hits Roadblock In Wicker Park

The Logan Square-based Modern Cannabis, which is owned by the duo behind Emporium, applied for the license for Milwaukee Avenue between Damen and Ashland avenues.

Wicker Park's Emporium Arcade bar.
Hannah Alani/Block Club Chicago
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WICKER PARK — For more than a year, the owners of Emporium Arcade Bar have been pushing to open a cannabis dispensary in the former Barry’s Drugs space next to the arcade.

Now, just months before recreational marijuana will be legal in Illinois, Emporium’s Danny and Doug Marks are facing an uphill battle if they want to bring a recreational dispensary to 1370 N. Milwaukee Ave.

Last week, the Marks brothers and Barry Golin of Barry’s Drugs asked the Wicker Park Committee for a letter of support to supplement the team’s application for a dispensary inside the old pharmacy.

The team needs a special use permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals, an appointed board who listens to resident opinions before making decisions, as well as a zoning change.

But during a meeting with neighborhood leaders, a handful of concerns were raised.

Credit: Hannah Alani/Block Club Chicago
From left to right, Danny Marks, Doug Marks and Barry Golin ask members of the Wicker Park Committee board for support for a cannabis dispensary at 1370 N. Milwaukee Ave.

Neighborhood leader Teddy Varndell told the Marks brothers and Golin that while he was open to the idea, he wanted to hear other proposals before giving the team the green light.

If granted the license, Varndell pointed out, the Golin-Emporium team would have a monopoly on the Wicker Park pot business as city rules do not allow for recreational dispensaries to exist within 1,500 feet of each other.

In other words, if approved, the Emporium shop would prohibit any other dispensaries from opening up on Milwaukee Avenue between Damen and Ashland avenues.

Varndell also questioned how a team of three white men would contribute to furthering a central goal of the state’s marijuana legalization, which was to help Chicagoans adversely affected by the War on Drugs.

Danny Marks said he and his brother both live in Wicker Park and Bucktown and have vested interests in the neighborhood’s future.

“Wouldn’t you rather give it to someone from the community?” he asked during the meeting.

The Wicker Park Committee has yet to make an official decision on the issue, said President Kyle Sneed.

In addition to Emporium, the Marks brother own Modern Cannabis, 2847 W. Fullerton Ave., in Logan Square. They opened the medical dispensary in 2016.

Since opening Emporium in 2012 and MoCa in 2016, neither business has had any negative incidents, Danny Marks said.

Golin closed Barry’s Drugs in 2017 after more than 71 years in business.

RELATED: Barry’s Drugs Closes, But Sign Remains

Chicago law currently allows medical dispensary license holders up to two recreational dispensary permits upon legalization Jan. 1.

The first of the two permits allows businesses to expand existing medical production to on-site recreational production.

The second site can be obtained by applying for an Early Approval License — so long as the second site is in the same cannabis district. According to city rules, the 11 existing medical dispensaries in Chicago have until Nov. 8 to enter a lottery for these permits.

The lottery for the permits will take place 8:30 a.m. Nov. 15, The Daily Line reported.

The city’s cannabis map includes seven districts. Logan Square and Wicker Park are in the Northwest district, which is bound by the city limits to the north, Interstates 90/94 to the east, Division Street to the south and the city limits to the west.

A total of seven dispensaries can exist within each district. With MoCa, the Emporium team would already have one of the Northwest Side’s seven allotted permits.

If approved for the Wicker Park spot, the team would have two of the seven total permits for the district.

RELATED: Modern Cannabis Wants To Eventually Add Wicker Park Location In Former Barry’s Drugs

Long home to Barry’s Drugs, the storefront at 1370 N. Milwaukee Ave. is currently empty. The owners of neighboring Emporium Arcade Bar want to expand their arcade into the former pharmacy and eventually add a marijuana dispensary, if laws permit it. [Block Club Chicago/Alisa Hauser]

In July of last year, the Marks brothers applied for and received a critical zoning change that would allow Emporium to expand into the vacant pharmacy for either tavern or medical marijuana dispensary — but now they would need yet another zoning change to allow for a recreational dispensary.

Emporium and Barry’s Drugs are in the 1st Ward, which is represented by Ald. Daniel La Spata.

Michael Chasen, a former deputy chief of detectives for the Chicago Police Department, has signed onto the project as a partner and chief security officer.

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