Two owners of stores on Evanston’s West Side have each signed a memorandum of agreement with the City of Evanston: the Fresh Market on Simpson Street, formerly operated as Ramy’s Foods, and an as-yet unnamed mini mart and a phone store on Dodge Avenue and Church Street. In the past few years, the City closed stores in both locations. Those stores were operated by different owners.

At the Fifth Ward meeting on Sept. 20, Alderman Delores Holmes said the operator of Fresh Market, Waqas Qureshi, whom she introduced as Ray, had abided by the agreement, one item of which was not to sell tobacco for a year. That year has elapsed, and the owner of the market would like to sell packs of cigarettes only and pouches of loose tobacco and paper. Ald. Holmes said she had asked the City’s law department to amend the Memorandum of Understanding, MOU, to allow the sales of certain tobacco products, if residents agreed.

“We want to do what the neighborhood wants,” Ald. Holmes said to the nearly 40 residents at the meeting.

Most residents at the meeting did not appear to object to the store’s selling the two products proposed, cigarette packs and pouches of loose tobacco. What they did object to was the sale of cigars or cigar wraps – materials that could be used for “blunts.” A blunt is created by hollowing out a cigar and filling the hollow with marijuana or by using a cigar-tobacco leaf to wrap marijuana. “The material is legal,” said one resident. “Kids take out the tobacco and put in the weed.”

“If [he’s going to sell] cigar wraps, we might as well let him do anything he wants,” said another.

“We’re not selling drug paraphernalia,” said Mr. Qureshi. “And we won’t sell ‘loosies’ [single cigarettes] – it’s against the law.” Assurances from the owner and the alderman that only packs and pouches would be sold at the market on Simpson Street at Darrow Avenue appeared to satisfy the residents at the meeting, and Corporation Counsel Grant Farrar will amend the MOU.

A second MOU, between the City of Evanston and Swastik Enterprise addresses two adjacent stores at the northeast corner of Church Street and Dodge Avenue. Since the City recently closed the minimart and cell-phone store in those locations, operated by other parties, Ald. Holmes and the neighbors had more stringent requirements. “We wanted to have the windows cleared so folks can see inside. We want him to be aware of expiration dates on food [and not keep old food on selves]. We want to know the design of the store – the number of kids who will come in [at one time] and how they will sell hot dogs and nachos,” Ald. Holmes said.

One resident asked whether the store would buy old phones, since the former store was “where most of the stolen phones from the high school turned up.”

“We won’t buy used phones,” said Sanjaykumar Patel, the owner and operator of the stores.

The MOU, which will be in effect for nine months, states that Mr. Patel will clear the windows, have “minimal signage,” make a reasonable effort to employ Evanston residents and “cooperate with the alderman in addressing problems that arise from the operations.” It also provides that the business license “may be revoked for serious violations that pose a substantial hazard to public health.” The store hours will be 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

“We will depend on the neighborhood to support the stores but also we need you to call if [the store owners] are not doing what they’re supposed to be,” Ald. Holmes said to her constituents. “These are two small steps, but they are big steps to taking our neighborhood back.”

Mary Gavin

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...