Citizen groups oppose loan store in Joliet
BY BOB OKON email@example.com November 1, 2013 8:04PM
Originally built as a Taco Bell, this building at 1606 W. Jefferson St. in Joliet has been proposed for a TitleMax loan store. Neighborhood groups are trying to stop it. | Bob Okon~Sun-Times Media
Updated: December 5, 2013 6:12AM
Joliet neighborhood groups are fighting a plan to bring a TitleMax loan store to Jefferson Street.
The loan store would be brought in by the same developer who is planning a popular project farther west on Jefferson Street that would add a Panera Bread and Chipotle restaurant to the commercial strip. But community leaders who have successfully fought pawn shops and gold-to-cash stores in recent years say the city does not need another high-interest loan store.
“We’re opposed to it because it’s very similar, if not the same, as other types of predatory lending,” said Mac Willis, president of the Unity Community Development Council, a network of Joliet neighborhood groups.
The city council will consider a special-use permit needed for the loan store at its Monday and Tuesday meetings. The zoning board already has advised against the plan. But city staff supports it.
“We’re dealing with a small building on a small lot that doesn’t have much parking, and it’s adjacent to a residential area,” City Manager Thomas Thanas said.
The building, at 1606 W. Jefferson St., originally was built as a Taco Bell and has been vacant since January 2012. Taco Bell moved years ago, and two restaurants have failed at the site since then.
Neighbors have complained in the past about noise and traffic from the restaurants, Thanas said.
“It probably needs a quieter operation, and the TitleMax proposal does that,” he said. Traffic will be lighter, and the loan store will close earlier than a fast-food restaurant would, he said.
Plus, Thanas said, the city has confidence in developer Jerry Cairo.
In addition to the current plan to bring Panera Bread, Chipotle and a new Aldi store to the former site of Joliet Dodge, Cairo has developed Jefferson Street sites used by Starbucks and Applebee’s.
Willis, however, does not accept the idea that a loan store would be a better fit for the site than another fast-food restaurant.
“If it’s just a simple restaurant, maybe that’s manageable as opposed to a city deteriorating because of these predatory lenders,” Willis said. “These type of businesses move into certain areas on purpose. They prey on the citizens who are most vulnerable.”
Thanas noted that he visited other TitleMax stores in Naperville and Plainfield to check out the operations and found them to be quiet businesses. While loan stores may be located in higher-income neighborhoods, too, Thanas acknowledged that they might find a certain market in Joliet among customers without access to credit cards or more traditional loans.
“We have a certain segment of our population that does not engage in traditional banking relationships,” he said.
Carol Ann Heinemann, president of the St. Pat’s Neighborhood Association, spoke against the TitleMax plan at the zoning board meeting in October. She said too many loan stores, pawn shops and gold-to-cash stores create a negative image for Joliet.
“We don’t believe they are a way to build our city,” Heinemann said. “When you drive into a city that has these kind of stores, people don’t want to live there.”