OLD IRVING PARK — Three illegal social clubs on the Northwest Side were shut down after two shootings in recent months, including one that killed a 19-year-old woman. But they are far from the only secret clubs springing up in Chicago during the pandemic, city leaders said at a neighborhood meeting Monday.
Ald. Jim Gardiner (45th) held the meeting with representatives from the city’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection less than two weeks after three people were shot inside R&R Events Venue, 4272 W. Irving Park Road. Prior to that, the city closed another unlicensed club near Six Corners, as well as one in Jefferson Park, where 19-year-old Meagan Bilbo was shot to death and two people were wounded in December.
Illegal social clubs are often set up in empty stores being rented out to people who want to have a “private affair,” said Joseph Sneed, a manager of business compliance with the business departments. Bars shutting down during the pandemic spurred a wave of these unlicensed clubs and parties, forcing the city to create a task force involving the business department, police and the buildings department to raid the spaces and shut them down, Sneed said.
The task force issued 67 cease-and-desist orders and 51 tickets for of operating without a public place of amusement license in 2020, said business department spokesperson Elisa Sledzinska. In 2021, that jumped to 101 cease-and-desists and 75 violations, Sledzinska said.
There have been 14 of each type of violation in 2022, Sledzinska said. Businesses can be ticketed multiple times if the enforcement team returns to the location and it is still operating without a proper license, city officials said.
“Ever since the pandemic first shut everything down, we’ve identified a lot of these event spaces popping up all over the city,” Sneed said. “This is a citywide problem. It’s not just on the Northwest Side. It’s all over.”
At the Old Irving Park club, a man came into R&R Events about 1 a.m. Feb. 20 and shot a 30-year-old man, a 30-year-old woman a 29-year-old man, police said. The shooter has not been arrested. The city shut down the business the next day.
Bilbo and two others were shot Dec. 5 while leaving an illegal social club in a vacant store in the 4800 block of North Central Avenue, officials said. The store, which detectives said had been rented out since October, was closed down by the task force, officials said.
Neighbors should share concerns about what is going on at storefront venues that say they’re available for bridal showers or children’s parties but instead are hosting illegal social clubs, buildings department Commissioner Matthew Beaudet said.
“We’re trying to find as many of these spots as we can to shut them down,” Beaudet said.
Some venues have “very detailed security cameras” that give whoever is running the illegal social club enough warning to lock the door and prevent city inspectors from catching them in the act, Beaudet said.
“So we’ve got to go back numerous times to get them. But I’m stubborn. So I’ll go back as many times as I have to go,” Beaudet said. “When you see something, don’t hesitate to call us.”
Sneed advised residents to see if businesses are licensed — and compare their licensing information to what they witness in person or in advertisements.
“The landlord is also responsible for, when renting out a business location, they should actually make sure whoever they are renting to actually has a business license for the activity they’re doing at that location,” Sneed said.
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