NORTHALSTED — The team that wants to open a weed dispensary in Northalsted is ready to convert the old Town Hall Pub as soon as the project gets the OK from the city, owners said Monday.
Kevin Hauswirth, one of the dispensary’s four owners, presented plans for the project during a community meeting at the 19th District (Town Hall) Police Station, 850 W. Addison St.
Hauswirth was joined by the other owners, including Edie Moore, an Army veteran and leader in cannabis policy reform, and Art Johnston and José Pepe Peña, LGBTQ civil rights pioneers and co-founders of Sidetrack.
They hope to convert the former Town Hall Pub, 3340 N. Halsted St., into one of the only queer- and POC-owned dispensaries in the United States, Hauswirth said. Johnston and Peña, who bought the bar after Town Hall Pub closed at the start of the pandemic, will be the dispensary’s landlords.
The team hopes to present the project during the Zoning Board of Appeals’ next meeting, Hauswirth said. As with all cannabis shops, it would also require a special-use permit from the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals and a state inspection.
“It does not require any zoning change, just a special-use permit,” Hauswirth said. “If zoning goes well, then we are shovel-ready and will start construction as soon as we can.”
If approved, the dispensary would be the first to open in the Northalsted LGBTQ district. It would be across the street from Sidetrack, the sprawling gay bar that Johnston and Peña founded in 1982 as a 900-square-foot hole in the wall.
The Town Hall Pub sign will have to come down, but much of the building’s facade will remain the same, Hauswirth said. The only changes include using the space’s north door as an entrance instead of the south door, making the front windows larger to allow more sunlight into the lobby and blacking out the windows, which is required of all dispensaries by state law.
Inside, the dispensary is broken into three sections: a lobby, a sales floor and the secure, employees-only section, Hauswirth said.
In the lobby, security guards will check all customers’ IDs, and staffers will ask people to wait if the sales floor is at capacity, Hauswirth said. Shoppers will be encouraged to place orders on their phones if the line is backed up.
The second room, the sales floor, will have some products on display along the walls and cases in the center, Hauswirth said. These displays can be removed on high-volume days or during the neighborhood’s street festivals to allow more people into the queue.
The sales floor also has registers where people can pick up their orders and pay in cash or debit card, an ATM and a customer restroom, Hauswirth said.
Only employees will be allowed in the back area, which contains the vault, a garage for deliveries, a break room and staff restrooms, Hauswirth said.
“The whole area is secure,” Hauswirth said. “So deliveries will come into the garage where we’ll have a semi-secure space. It will come straight into the vault and once you order your product, an employee will pass it through a window from the vault to the cashier and into your happy hands.”
Customers will then exit through the space’s southern door, Hauswirth said.
Alderman-elect Bennett Lawson, who attended Monday’s meeting, said current Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) “doesn’t see an issue” with the proposal. Lawson has been Tunney’s chief of staff since 2007.
“We’ve had the other dispensaries on Clark Street in two locations and it ran very well,” Lawson said. “Given the type of traffic that we’ve seen and the size and safety enhancements, we think this is probably going to work here.”
Tunney’s office did express concerns about people loitering in the alley behind the dispensary, which the team has addressed, Lawson said.
The dispensary will have “no loitering” signs in the alley, and staff will be trained not to hang out behind the building, Hauswirth said.
One neighbor expressed their support for the dispensary as providing LGBTQ people a space to buy weed products without having to venture into Wrigleyville.
“It’s important to have a neighborhood dispensary here because a lot of people who would end up using that dispensary — LGBTQ people, especially trans people in this political environment — are going to feel less safe going over to Clark Street, especially if it’s a sports day or there’s a lot of bros out,” the neighbor said. “I think LGBTQ people will feel much more comfortable at the Halsted dispensary in Boystown.”
Brainstorming for the dispensary started “many years ago” as a way to ensure the future viability of the Northalsted business district, which is one of the country’s largest LGBTQ enclaves, Johnston said.
“Around the country, the gay districts are disappearing rapidly, and we are probably one of the single most vibrant gay districts left in the United States,” Johnston said. “Overall, our goal is to think of the things we could be doing now to ensure the future, and we see cannabis as one of those additions to the street that will help maintain its viability.”
Johnston is also co-founder of Equality Illinois, the oldest and largest LGBTQ rights organization in the state.
Peña has worked in Chicago’s gay bar scene since 1970 after fleeing from Cuba several years earlier, according to the announcement.
“Opening a successful, inclusive dispensary is about more than cannabis,” Peńa said. “It’s about the future of queer enclaves and safe spaces for marginalized communities. Ensuring representation in business ownership is a big part of the solution to keep our communities safe and ensure progress.”
Moore, who got her start as an advocate for cannabis policy reform when her mother started seeking medical cannabis in 2016, is co-founder and first executive director of Chicago’s chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws and co-founder of the Illinois Minority Cannabis Business Owners Association.
Moore has been an outspoken advocate for criminal justice and Black and Brown ownership of cannabis businesses.
“The ‘War on Drugs’ disproportionately impacted communities of color, a reality that is even more dire for LGBTQ people of color,” Moore previously said in a statement. “Partnering with my friends and allies, Art and Pep, brings together our shared commitment to equity, a passion for safe and accessible cannabis and a recognition of a need for more safe spaces in Chicago, especially for queer folks and people of color.”
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