The owner of a building that until recently was home to a controversial convenience store near Hamlin Park said the closure of the store is an effort to rid the neighborhood of a gang element that has been linked to a persistent trend of crime.
“We wanted to get rid of that garbage on the corner,” said building manager Judy Ghunheim, explaining her decision to evict the operator of INA Pantry from the first floor of the mixed-use building at 2100 W. Barry St. The store faces the northwest corner of Hamlin Park, and is near the scene of three gang-related shootings in the neighborhood since October 2011.
Hamlin Park Neighbors secretary Colleen Leahy told RVJ that a sign appeared in the store’s window several weeks ago indicating it would close at the end of the month. Burglar bars now secure the door and windows, and the interior appears to have been emptied of merchandise and most fixtures.
“They took everything,” said Ghunheim, adding that it was time to part ways with the pantry’s operator. “We just had a lot of issues with the guy. We’re trying to clean up the area. There’s too much crime going on. I’m glad he’s out of there. We’ve been working on that for a long time.”
Ghunheim said the building has been in her husband’s family for decades, and the ground-floor store originally housed a candy shop. However, when family members decided to lease the space, they encountered issues with merchants who did not discourage gang members or “wannabes” from congregating in or outside the store. “They have always hung out on that corner,” she said.
The store may also have created legal problems for the Ghunheim family. The City of Chicago’s Corporation Counsel filed a housing complaint in September 2011 against owner George Ghunheim. The case will return to court on May 3. Judy Ghunheim said the dispute was connected to electrical work the store operator performed without securing necessary permits. Calls to the city’s Legal Department and Ghunheim attorney Phillip Levatino have not been returned.
In the meantime, Judy Ghunheim said family members plan to re-open the store in several months after sorting through what she described as “red tape.” She said the family hopes to have a small grocery store and maybe a coffee shop in the space. “It’s going to be better,” she promised.