Last night, I sat, fuming, in a community meeting, as the C.E.O. of EZCASH Corporation (and his two lawyers) tried their best to explain why an EZPAWN (a.k.a. Pawn Shop, a.k.a. Predatory Lender) would be the "perfect fit" for our dear, developing-at-a-snail's-pace neighborhood on the edge of Logan Square, near the historic Congress Theater.
Among EZCORP's claims: "We make substantial investments in our communities!" "Our associates earn above-average wages!" "EZCORP does not carry firearms!"
Well, EZ PAWN has traded in handguns, and the they have invested in shops in some of the most blighted communities in the U.S., taking advantage of the Economic Slump by offering a 280% APR (no, that is not a typo, it really is 280%).
I looked the owner of EZ CORP into the eyes, and asked politely, "I'm sure we live in very different neighborhoods, but if you had small children, would you want a pawn shop on your corner?" He never answered my question. Instead, the zoning lawyer for EZ PAWN piped in to tell me how she finds visiting pawn shops "a very educational outing for children." (???). She showed off a ring that she had purchased at a pawn shop, to which I replied, "We obviously have different values, as I would not feel comfortable wearing the ring of someone who likely traded it in, hoping to get it back as soon as she could, desperate enough to give in to the ridiculous APR terms, using the cash to make rent for the month."
The fact of the matter is that, no, thank you very much, I do not want a pawn shop on the corner. Besides the fact that pawn shops are known to be markets for stolen property and attract crime, I see so much potential in this lovely tract of Milwaukee Avenue. Sadly, just as positive development creeped up the avenue from Wicker Park and Bucktown, the recession hit. I believe -as do many other members in our community - that if we just give the economy a little bit more time to recover, business owners will see the potential, too, and have the desire and means to invest.
We need local, sustainable businesses that appeal to the many families, like ours, that have recently moved into the neighborhood, as well as to those that have been living here for years, enjoying easy access to the city, lovely parks, and an elementary school making progress by leaps and bounds. Already we have the Congress Theater, which hosts a lovely farmer's market in the winter, the Logan Square Kitchen, Accanto, an upscale Italian restaurant, and a great bike shop, the Bike Lane, on this segment of Milwaukee, and allowing unsavory businesses will force quality businesses to reconsider their investments.
I am hoping that our Alderman, Joe Proco Moreno, will see this potential, too, and veto EZCORP's plans to open a pawn shop. More than that, I'm hoping that he'll do what he can to attract more quality, family-safe and family-friendly businesses to our neighborhood.
Amy Bizzarri is a mom of two living in Logan Square. She also blogs at tiramisumom.com.
See more of Amy's stories here.