Green Element Resale, a thrift store near Loyola’s Lake Shore Campus, is facing scrutiny for its use of the sidewalk in front of the store.
Green Element opened in 2010 and has used the sidewalk outside the store to display furniture for years. In the past couple months, complaints from community members regarding this sidewalk usage have forced the city to become involved.
According to Ally Brisbin, the director of economic development and communications for the office of 48th Ward Alderman Harry Osterman, the office has received numerous complaints from a block club — a group of citizens representing a city block in the neighborhood — regarding Green Element’s sidewalk usage.
Brian Haag, 54, the owner and co-founder of Green Element, said having furniture on display benefits people who want to buy and donate. Haag also said not being able to use the sidewalk forces him to decline furniture donation offers on a daily basis.
“If things aren’t moving out of the store I have no room to store all [the items] being offered,” Haag said. “Whereas when I was using the sidewalk, I was saying yes to 95 percent of the people who wanted to donate.”
The issue was reported to the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection (BACP). BACP put Haag’s business license on hold, and he said he’s working with BACP to try to make an amendment to the current ordinance that allows him to use the sidewalk after someone has complained.
Chapter 2-25-060 of the Municipal Code of Chicago says that the city will issue permits to use public grounds, determine the price for permits and advise the City Council in determining prices for special cases that don’t yet have established rates.
Haag said he would be willing to pay for the sidewalk just as sidewalk cafes do because the use of the space makes a big difference in his revenues.
“When we have furniture on the sidewalk we do more business that day,” Haag said. “Minimally, we’ll do another $100 that day … so that represents $3,000 a month, and minimally.”
Haag said Green Element had two of its highest grossing days in its eight years of existence back to back while furniture was on the sidewalk.
Public Way Use Permits are required for anyone who wants to use the sidewalk, due to liability to the city and public safety, according to Brisbin. She said the main issue is there isn’t currently legislation for the purposes Haag was using the sidewalk for.
“The alderman’s office signs off on Public Way Use Permits and then they go down to City Council, but majority of them are for sidewalk cafes and for signage and awnings,” Brisbin said. “Those are the primary uses … so there’s processes set up for that but right now there’s not one for furniture stores.”
Brisbin said the city likes to see sidewalk cafes with some kind of border or fence to contain tables and chairs, which allows for a measure of predictability about the condition of the sidewalk.
Brisbin said they’ve also presented Haag the option to apply for a Sidewalk Sale Permit, but there’s a limitation on how many days a year a sidewalk sale is allowed.
As a second option, Haag has been trying to get Loyola to let Green Element use the empty lot the university owns next to the store so he could put furniture there.
“I’ve said that I’m willing to pay to have the lot resurfaced, I will take total liability, so Loyola wouldn’t have liability, in exchange for me using the lot,” Haag said. “And I would want to pave it more like a plaza, and not like a parking lot because I also thought it would be great to do little free concerts, like acoustic music or something, things like that, that the neighborhood could totally benefit from.”
Haag reached out to Jennifer Clark, Loyola’s associate vice president of Campus and Community Planning, about this request.
In an email to The Phoenix, Clark said Loyola would consider leasing the lot, but Haag told her he wasn’t interested in a lease.
“Loyola would be doing a really nice community service to let me use the lot, and it’s something they aren’t making revenue off now, it’s just a thing that’s in their control,” Haag said. “They’d be doing something really nice for the neighborhood.”
Haag said it seems like the ordinance is simply too hard to change, though he’s willing to pay for the permit or an amendment to it.
“If the city doesn’t step up and help the middle class and small businesses, how long have we got before Target, Walmart, Amazon has everything?” Haag said. “I mean, there’s a Target going in two blocks north of here.”
So far, Haag has gathered more than 1,500 signatures in favor of Green Element using the sidewalk during all business hours.
Brisbin said the alderman’s office loves Green Element and thinks it’s a great business.
“They’re a great asset to the community, and we’re working with him to help him operate within the law of the city of Chicago,” Brisbin said.
There have been two community meetings at City Hall so far, one Sept. 7 and one Oct. 12. These meetings were arranged by BACP in hopes of finding a resolution to the problems identified by citizen complaints, but neither was successful.
Haag said he has a court hearing where he’ll get his license back, but hasn’t yet been given a date.