Wall to Wall Framing, 5554 N. Winthrop Ave., has been open for 20 years, but its owner Leif Forre is considering leaving the neighborhood because he's been continually harrassed and called homophobic slurs. Credit: Block Club Chicago/Kayleigh Padar

EDGEWATER — A longtime Edgewater business owner is considering leaving the neighborhood after enduring repeated anti-gay harassment from a group of people. 

Leif Forre has owned Wall to Wall Framing, 5554 N. Winthrop Ave., for more than 20 years. But for the past few years, a group of people have loitered near the shop at the corner of Winthrop and Bryn Mawr avenues, drinking excessively and disrupting passersby, Forre said. 

The group frequently harasses Forre and calls him homophobic slurs because he’s asked them to move away from his business’ entrance and stop bothering customers, littering and publicly urinating, Forre said. 

“They’re pissed they can’t do all this in front of my business, and they hate me,” Forre said. “They’re out here every single day, and I’ve been trying to deal with this all on my own for so many years. I’ve just had it. I’m at my limit, and I can’t take it anymore.” 

Forre said he is considering moving his business out of the city if the problem persists.

Fore is urging customers and neighbors to help with the situation, since he is not the first neighbor or business owner to complain of loitering and safety issues on the Bryn Mawr Historic District corridor, he said. He wants others to report any harassment they witness to police so officials might do more to prevent incidents. 

“If any business discriminates against a group of people, the media is there, there are protests, people call to shut the business down,” Forre said. “But when there’s a group of people constantly, on a daily basis for years, harassing a gay-owned business, nothing gets done.”

Wall to Wall Framing has been located at 5554 N. Winthrop Ave for 20 years. Credit: Block Club Chicago/Kayleigh Padar

The harassment escalated around noon Oct. 17, when one of the people made violent threats, continuously hurled homophobic slurs and spit on Forre’s windows, he said. Forre closed for the afternoon because he didn’t feel safe, he said. 

Police confirmed they received a report of the incident. On Thursday, officers arrested a 52-year-old, with authorities charging him with one misdemeanor count of assault, according to police.

Forre said police told him to call 911 if the person came back to his business, but there are still other people doing similar things on the block, he said. The business owner would also like to see the incident addressed as a hate crime.

“They didn’t give him a ticket that day or anything. They just wrote up a little incident report for me and took off and left the guy on the street,” Forre said. “I didn’t feel safe, and I was just so upset and so pissed that I had to leave for the day.” 

A sign on the door at Wall to Wall Framing, 5554 N. Winthrop Ave., explains the situation the owner Leif Forre has been dealing with recently. Credit: Block Club Chicago/Kayleigh Padar

Loitering and other issues of public safety have been a common theme on Bryn Mawr Avenue’s commercial corridor since the pandemic, which caused the loss of anchor businesses on the strip.

Fearing that recent successes in crime prevention and business development were slipping, former Ald. Harry Osterman (48th) opened a public safety office on Bryn Mawr Avenue and called for the return of foot patrols to the area.

New Ald. Leni Maana-Hoppenworth (48th) is now picking up those efforts, she said.

The alderwoman said her office contacted the city’s homeless outreach team and the organization Trilogy, which provides services for people without adequate housing and those struggling with mental health issues. The ward office connected Forre with the community policing office in the local police district when the situation didn’t improve, she said. 

Maana-Hoppenworth, whose ward office is near the Bryn Mawr Red Line, said she has requested special attention from police for Bryn Mawr, and there are increased patrols in the area.

“Safety is the top priority of our office. I opened our ward office on Bryn Mawr in order to focus closely on this corridor,” Maana-Hoppenworth said in a statement. “We are in touch on a daily basis with our 20th District Commander and his team addressing community safety concerns.” 

Manaa-Hoppenworth said she backs legislation that could help in such cases. That includes the the Chi Versus Hate Ordinance, which she co-sponsored and which would allow Chicagoans to report “hate incidents” like discriminatory language through 311, since these situations can often be a precursor to further violence. She also supports the homelessness prevention measure Bring Chicago Home and the mental health emergency response program Treatment Not Trauma, she said.

Fore wants the city to do more to prevent these kinds of situations by increasing security and providing more mental health support for people. 

In the meantime, Forre has been looking at suburban locations for his business, he said. 

“I’ve just been left here all by myself to deal with this, and nobody helps me,” Forre said. “I can’t do this anymore. If the city doesn’t want to help me, then I’m out.” 

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