Feature photo  by rachelleb

Humboldt Park community groups are organizing a “last stand against Cash America” to combat the proposed opening of a pawn shop at 3201 West North Avenue. Residents, led by Humboldt’s Block Club Federation and Rumble Arts Center, will testify at a hearing at City Hall on Friday, May 20th.

Members of Humboldt Park’s Block Club say they fear the opening of a pawn chain in the space will be detrimental to their neighborhood. “We want something that will improve our community, like a clothing store or a juice bar,” says Magdalena Martinez, President of the Block Club. “We don’t need another pawn shop to steal our hard-earned money.” The Block Club first spearheaded community meetings when Cash America distributed fliers announcing plans for the franchise. Cash America declined to comment for this story.

Some activists I spoke to expressed concern that the franchise would include payday lending, but I was unable to obtain any evidence of this claim. It seems unlikely; Cash America is being represented by Cook County Commissioner John Fritchey, who advocated payday lending reform when he co-sponsored IL HB 1100 as a State Rep in ’05. It’s almost irrelevant anyway, as anyone can apply for a payday loan online.

Alderman Roberto Maldonado of the 26th Ward in Humboldt Park has pledged to support the community’s decision, so the Rumble Arts Center has been circulating petitions and encouraging community attendance at meetings, uniting people in the neighborhood who object to Cash America for different reasons: those who don’t like corporations, those who don’t like pawn shops, and others who think it’s just a bad location for the chain.

Alderman Rey Colón of the 35th Ward, which includes Humboldt Park, tells me he is sympathetic to community concerns, but he’s also sympathetic to the individual who chooses to use a pawn shop. He’s dealt with this issue before, when a Cash America pawn shop opened in Logan Square. In a diverse neighborhood, where some residents protest subsidized housing and others rail against condos, Colón has realized that you can’t give everybody what they want and instead offers something for everyone. It’s earned the alderman a pro-business reputation, resulting in campaign contributions from grateful local businesses, including Cash America.

The Rumble Arts Center, which offers classes to children on a sliding donation scale, has a very practical reason for opposing the pawn franchise; they fear it will draw funds from one of their sponsors, neighboring Aaron’s Jewelry & Pawn. On their Facebook event page announcing Friday’s hearing, Rumble Arts states that “pawn shops, in general, are not an indication of a neighborhood’s rise; they flourish predominantly in a neighborhood’s decline.” The page also reminds residents that the Cash America will be located “next to Humboldt Park, across the street from a needle exchange, and down the street from two elementary schools!”

These claims stir emotion, but they’re logically questionable: pawn shops are present in low-income areas because that’s their customer base. The implication that a pawn chain will create/attract crime is similarly dubious.

Residents who want to keep Cash America out of the space entirely fear a boycott alone would be ineffective because they think their neighbors would want to use the business anyway. Some people prefer to get a loan from a chain outlet like Cash America. Others prefer an indie shop like Aaron’s. When you’re hard up for cash, it’s good to have options.

Corrections/Updates:  Cash America does not currently have any payday lending stores in Illinois- they are all strictly Pawn.  Brook Wolf, the director of Rumble Arts Center, is the daughter of the owner of Aaron’s Jewlery and Pawn.

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