GREATER GRAND CROSSING — For nearly a year, CeCe Edwards and a collective of fellow 75th Street neighbors have fought to have nearby bars be “good business neighbors,” she said.
The taverns — Frances Cocktail Lounge, 307 E. 75th St; President’s Lounge, 653. E. 75th St.; 50 Yard Line, 69 E. 75th St.; and Six O Six The Lounge, 606 E. 75th St. — are staples in the community, serving generations of customers for decades.
But in recent months, neighbors have complained that bar patrons are becoming increasingly rowdy as they leave the businesses late at night.
Crowds overflow onto neighborhood streets to blast loud music, defecate on lawns, fight, block parking spaces and have sex in open areas, like alleys and people’s driveways, neighbors said.
“People are trying to sleep and go to work the next day, and they’re over there screaming and fighting,” Edwards said.
When neighbors would call the police, they wouldn’t come, said Rodney Johnson, a lifelong Greater Grand Crossing resident. Private meetings with former Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th), bar owners and the other city officials went nowhere as stakeholders struggled to find a balance between supporting local businesses and maintaining safe, quiet neighborhood streets, Edwards said.
Now, three of the bars have signed Plans of Corrective Actions issued by the Local Liquor Control Commission — a division of the city’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection. In those plans, owners agreed to hire security, disperse crowds, report criminal activity and encourage patrons not to park on neighboring streets.
Neighbors said disruptions on 75th are starting to calm down. New leadership in the 6th Ward — Ald. William Hall (6th) took office in May — has also led to faster changes that work for neighbors and business owners, Edwards said.
“We’re not trying to close people down,” Edwards said. “They have to adhere to excessive loitering, security, noise control and illegal parking, We want to make 75th Street walkable and safe.”
None of the 75th Street bar owners responded to Block Club’s requests for comment.
Neighbors Complain, But Some Owners And Officials Rebuff Them
Local leaders long have worked to make 75th Street a South Side hub for dining and entertainment, particularly during the summer.
In addition to bars and lounges, other popular staples in what some call a Black-owned “Restaurant Row” include Brown Sugar Bakery, Lem’s B-B-Q, Soul Veg City and 5 Loaves Eatery.
In 2021, the Greater Chatham Initiative was one of 15 community organizations chosen for a city grant to create spaces for outdoor entertainment during the pandemic. Officials created a “mobile boardwalk” on 75th to draw people to the area.
But Edwards, Johnson and other neighbors became wary of the large crowds that would often gather on the street after business hours and anticipated it could lead to trouble. Neighbors were upset with groups gathering late at night in parking lots at Lem’s Bar-B-Q and A&S Beverages, a liquor store at 308 E. 75th St.
Then in June 2021, Kimfier Miles, 29, was killed and nine other people were wounded after two men opened fire on a group in a parking lot near Lem’s.
Before that mass shooting, one 75th Street neighbor had raised the alarm about safety as leaders pushed for more commercial activity.
“You’re wasting your money and your time if you don’t make people feel safe first,” the neighbor said at the time.
Community leaders wanted to take the boardwalk down following the shooting, but decided to keep it up during the summer as a public space for neighbors to dine.
Constant police presence after the shooting briefly paused problems with raucous bar patrons, but the issue once again intensified in summer 2022, neighbors said.
One neighbor’s daughter approached a man to stop him from urinating on her flowers, Johnson said. The man “threw a cup of an unknown substance on her,” Johnson said.
Another resident once asked someone playing music outside their home late at night to turn it down, Edwards said. The man told her, “that’s what you get for living down the street from a bar,” Edwards said. Bar patrons began swallowing up parking on residential streets, neighbors said.
“You go out for some milk, and if you try to come back, you can forget it,” Edwards said. “You have to park a block away. In the wintertime, that’s not funny.”
Neighbors began filming and photographing crowds gathered outside bars and in nearby parking lots, excessive trash and late-night car crashes to document the problems.
Calling police was also ineffective, neighbors said. Officers would respond too slowly, would not do much to address the crowds once on scene or “wouldn’t show” at all, Johnson said.
A Tribune investigation this year detailed that it took police over an hour to respond to thousands of 911 calls in 2022. The wait times were particularly bad in majority-Black South Side districts, the Tribune found. Police began tracking some of that data following a 10-year-long lawsuit about response times on the West Side.
Neighbors appealed to Sawyer, hoping he would lead conversations with the city and bar owners to quell the disturbances. But Sawyer didn’t agree with the neighbors’ point of view about the source of the issues, Johnson said.
Sawyer would say he didn’t understand why the meetings were happening “because there’s nothing wrong with what these bars are doing,” Johnson said.
Sawyer, a lifelong Chatham resident, told Block Club before he left office that the bars are decades-old institutions that have contributed to the rise of 75th Street. Owners have been “cooperative and compliant” with neighbors, Sawyer said.
No one wants disturbances in their neighborhoods, but “it’s not the bars. The bars are doing fine,” Sawyer said.
“I’ve been in every single meeting they’ve had, and it’s a bunch of nothing,” Sawyer said in February. “In the summertime, 75th Street is a popular street where people hang out. They’re trying to deal with a community issue and they’re dragging in the bars, which they should not have done because that puts negative marks on their records like they’ve done something.”
Melvin Brooks, owner of President’s Lounge, told the Sun-Times that neighbors like Edwards and Johnson are a “splinter group.”
Crowds and traffic along the 75th Street corridor “have existed for 30 years,” Brooks told the Sun-Times. People pack the street late at night after leaving Downtown and when the beaches close, Brooks said.
“[Edwards] has forgotten the fact that 75th Street is a business corridor that has been known to be a food and beverage hospitality strip,” Brooks told the Sun-Times.
Brooks did not respond to Block Club’s requests for comment.
But no matter where the crowds are coming from, it’s up to local officials to “protect the neighbors you serve” and business owners to stop unruliness, Edwards said.
“You’re depending on the city and the alderman to make sure that, when a bar is doing these kinds of deleterious activities, there’s severe consequences and protection of the neighbors you serve,” Edwards said. “You serve us. So you’re derelict in your duty, and it’s a violation of public trust.”
‘This Didn’t Happen Overnight; Getting It Fixed Overnight Is Impossible’
For months, city officials met with neighbors and bar owners in private meetings to break the stalemate. Neighbors were clear that they did not want the bars to close, but there needed to be “plans in action to respect neighbors in the community who live nearby,” Edwards said.
Late last month, representatives from Frances Cocktail Lounge, Six O Six Lounge and President’s Lounge signed Plans of Corrective Actions issued by BACP’s Local Liquor Control Commission. 50 Yard Line has yet to sign a new agreement with the city.
A spokesperson from the city’s business department did not immediately answer a question about the status of 50 Yard’s safety plan. The next community meeting for 50 Yard Line is in late July.
The three bars with corrective action plans must now employ security guards, maintain 24-hour surveillance cameras, disperse lingering crowds, attend all district police CAPS meetings and meet with neighbors and local officials if requested, according to the signed agreements obtained by Block Club. The bars must keep a log of reported illegal activity and call taxis for patrons showings signs of intoxication, according to the agreements.
Individual bars also have some added requirements specific to their businesses.
Marlon Mitchell, president of Frances Cocktail Lounge, must post a sign telling customers not to park on Calumet Street and Prairie Avenue, according to the agreement.
President’s Lounge and Frances Cocktail Lounge have to report illegal activity and keep a log of incidents to report to police, the city’s business division or any law agency “upon request,” according to the agreement.
The lounges with outdoor patios also cannot play live or recorded music there, according to the agreements. Six O Six The Lounge must employ at least two security officers — one man and one woman — to guard the lounge, according to the agreements.
The bar owners could be fined or have their business licenses suspended or revoked if they don’t comply, according to the documents.
All corrective action plans can be viewed online.
Efforts are moving in the right direction, Edwards said.
“Several police cars” have been parked outside the bars since the corrective plans went into effect, and bar owners have been cooperative, Edwards said.
Chicago Police have “sufficient resources in place to maintain public safety in the 75th Street Corridor,” according to a statement from Police News Affairs.
“We have been working with community members to address their concerns and will continue to have an open dialogue as we all work to safeguard the area. We’re also in frequent communication with businesses in the area and are reminding them of their responsibilities to the community,” the statement said.
Hall’s leadership has also been “encouraging” Edwards said.
“For 12 months, we’ve been doing all this work, and we haven’t had much political representation,” Edwards said. “I’m encouraged by Ald. Hall, because he said he was going to stand with us.”
Weeks before Hall was sworn into office, he met with neighbors in the basement of St. James Community Church, where he serves as senior pastor, he said. Upset neighbors met him at his ward nights and urged him to act, Hall said.
“For years, [neighbors] were ignored, and I understand the disrespect,” Hall said.
Immediately after their meeting, he “picked up the phone and gave commanders notice of the situation” on 75th Street, Hall said.
Citing concerns about people congregating in parking lots, Hall said he’s already met with the owner of A & S Beverages, who agreed to close off their lot.
“Things have changed” since he was sworn in, Hall said. About “70 percent of issues are fixed,” he said.
A representative from A & S did not immediately respond to Block Club’s requests for comment.
Most neighbors he’s spoken to are happy with the “productive changes” in the community, Hall said. Only a few unhappy neighbors continue to “provoke fear” and disregard the swift changes that have happened in a matter of weeks, Hall said.
“This didn’t happen overnight. Getting it fixed overnight is impossible,” Hall said. “I’m still doing the work. I have a meeting with the bar owners very soon to discuss safety plans. Their demands are being met, specifically about 75th Street.”
Homeowners will next meet with police commanders from the Gresham (6th) and Grand Crossing (3rd) police districts, Edwards said.
Neighbors sent the commanders “a page of actions” elaborating on the safety measures outlined in the Plans of Corrective Actions they want in the community and asking how they can help achieve it, Edwards said.
“Safety ambassadors,” a group of neighbors in the community, are “still filming around the neighborhood every weekend,” Edwards said. They’ll soon launch a Facebook page where people can share their collective concerns and successes, Edwards said.
“This is not a secret. This is community advocacy for people who are tired of living like this,” Edwards said. “We don’t want to live in fear. No one does.”
Having a safer 75th Street benefits everyone in the community, Edwards said. Soon, new businesses like Park Manor 75 and Twisted Eggroll will move into buildings on the corridor, encouraging other entrepreneurs to invest in the community, Edwards said.
“We want the businesses to cooperate, not just so that you all can have a safe community, but also so that more businesses will be encouraged to come into the community and revitalize the district,” Edwards said. “We need to get the bars right, so businesses won’t feel threatened to invest their funds, money and time.”
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