GARFIELD PARK — One of the few grocery stores where Garfield Park residents can buy fresh produce was shut down by the city.
The Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection and the Chicago Police shut down One Eleven Food & Liquors at 111. N. Kedzie Ave. in July after for allegedly failing to follow a required plan to mitigate criminal activity around the business.
The Black-owned business, which has been a staple in the area for over 42 years, had its business license revoked in July 2019 and lost an appeal to reopen last month.
“They blamed us for these types of crimes. But we were in touch with the police, we called the police whenever there were problems in the area,” said Verlinda Dotson, whose family owns the store. “They blame us for the people loitering around, instead of the police doing their job. But they’re [loitering] on city property, not our property.”
The city shut down One Eleven using a process called summary closure, which enables police and city officials to close establishments they say pose a repeated threat to public safety. The store is located just off the Kedzie Green Line station, which has been a hotspot for shootings, loitering and illegal street peddlers.
In 2016, there were multiple shootings in the area on consecutive days, one of which involved someone opening fire from within the store, according to the city’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection.
After a temporary closure in 2016, the city required store owners to agree to a plan to reduce crime in the immediate area outside the store before they could reopen.
The city revoked the grocery store’s business license in July 2019 for failing to prevent loitering, operating beyond permitted hours and failing to have required security guards, according to records from the city’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection.
But Dotson said the store followed the required safety plan required to the letter, at great cost to the business.
The store brought on five security guards – two to keep watch in the morning and three at night. They set up improved lighting and built an iron fence around the perimeter of the store. Dotson also installed a new camera system and reduced store hours in compliance with the safety plan. The store’s leadership team also attends every community policing meeting for their district.
“Everything they told us to do, we put into play,” Dotson said.
In a key incident that led to the closure, the city cited the store for having only one security guard instead of two. But according to Dotson, the guard had left work unexpectedly because of a family emergency.
Dotson also denied violating the shortened operating hours the safety plan required. She said Near West (12th) Police District leadership gave her permission to extend her operating hours, then city leaders endorsed a revised safety plan reflecting those longer hours.
One Eleven reopened temporarily while they appealed the decision but the appeal was eventually dismissed, forcing One Eleven to close for good in July.
Dotson said she felt the city unfairly targeted her family’s business.
“It’s been like a plot to run us out of business, run us out of the community,” she said.
Community members and elected officials came out in support of the store after the city moved to close it in 2019. U.S. Rep. Danny Davis wrote to city leaders asking for leniency towards One Eleven, saying store owners made every effort to comply with the city’s safety plan.
“There has been no negative activity since [they] made these changes,” Davis wrote in the letter.
Like much of the West Side, Garfield Park is considered to be an area lacking affordable access to nutritious food. Many residents say they must travel a mile or more to grocery stores or otherwise rely on convenience stores, processed meals and fast food.
Besides being a liquor store, One Eleven offered produce, milk, dairy, meats and other food essentials for nearby residents.
“It is unfair to blame [the owners] for the problems that happen around the store,” said minister Tonya Hunter, a local activist. “One Eleven is truly a one-stop store where you can buy groceries. … They are definitely needed to those of us who depend upon its very existence.”
Some neighborhood residents said they were glad One Eleven had its license revoked.
“We have been working hard for years to get this store closed,” said Patti Mocco who has lived in the area for three years.
Mocco said she worked with longtime Garfield Park residents to push police to take action on the store for staying open late and not having enough security. According to Mocco, the store is to blame for some of the violence, shootings and drug use in the area.
Another neighbor, Tamara Draper, said she had been going to One Eleven for groceries for most of her life. Draper said she used to rely on the store to get fruits and vegetables and to grab daily items between major bulk shopping trips.
Now when she needs to get things like produce or milk, Draper will be taking the bus nearly two miles to Pete’s Fresh Market on the Near West Side.
The city’s choice to shut down the store in the middle of the pandemic makes it even harder for neighborhood residents to get the food they need to stay healthy, Draper said.
“It has affected the health and the mental health of the people in the community. Eating healthy food is important for everything,” Draper said. “And we’ve been in a pandemic… I don’t know what they did so bad that in this pandemic they had to shut down this store.”
Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th) did not return calls about the closure.
Pascal Sabino is a Report for America corps member covering Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park for Block Club Chicago.
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