Editor's note: This story was updated to reflect no armed robbery took place outside Ram Food store as previously written. Elgin police later said the information came from a report that proved to be false.
You can buy pretty much anything at Ram Food: canned peas, diapers, T-shirts, snow boots, makeup, cat litter, cellphone chargers. But you won't find beer and wine at the Elgin store.
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The owners' request for a liquor sales permit for the store at 725 W. Chicago St. was denied after city staff members said liquor sales would be harmful in an at-risk neighborhood. The city council did so in a 4-4 vote, with Mayor David Kaptain supporting the plan, and Councilwoman Carol Rauschenberger abstaining.
The store, owned by Franklin Alrich and his wife Suze Sarrazin of Carpentersville, is close to homes and Washington Elementary School, Community Development Director Marc Mylott said. The staff also cited the adverse effects that the former Highland Liquors had on nearby residences. The area is part of Elgin police's resident officer program, which targets at-risk neighborhoods.
The owners of Ram Food say they just want a fair shot at competing with other stores. They are originally from Haiti and have owned the store for five years. "People come in for groceries and ask if we have beer, and then they leave," Alrich said.
The closest stores that sell liquor are J J Peppers on Route 31, and Super Saver Foods and Neighborhood Package Liquors, both on Walnut Avenue. All are about a half mile away.
Councilmembers John Prigge, Anna Moeller, Rich Dunne and Terry Gavin voted against the request. "We're trying to stabilize neighborhoods," Moeller said.
Ram Food could attract people who are banned from other stores, Prigge said.
Others said the store should get a chance.
"One of our own goals is supporting small businesses. If it does turn out to be a problem, we do have a mechanism to correct it," such as police intervention, Councilwoman Tish Powell said.
The council can pull the store's liquor license if needed, Kaptain said. Also, there are other establishments that sell liquor near schools, he added.
The city received 27 letters in support of Ram Food from residents and business owners, including Joe Bero & Son Plumbing & Piping, Golden Skillet and Herb's Glass & Mirror.
The owners also gathered 141 signatures for a petition in their support, but they didn't have a chance to submit it to the city council, they said.
Resident Rhonda Stapleton, who works across the street, said the owners take good care of their store. "There is no riff raff in the parking lot or in the store; it's well lit," she said. "All the people around here know Frank. He would take care of problems right away."
The only letter against Ram Food's petition was from Barbara Maring, of Keystone Realty, who is part owner of Oak Tree Plaza across the street.
"We are concerned about people sitting in their cars, or sitting on the ledge, drinking. It's very important to preserve a family atmosphere and a lack of crime," she said, adding Alrich and Sarrazin "are lovely people."
The planning and zoning commission last month unanimously recommended approval of the permit. Conditions included no sales of individual bottles or cans of beer, no liquor signs outside, and adding trees, shrubbery and a brick monument at the corner.
"I am very sad about this," Alrich said. "We said we would do everything they asked."
Elgin police are always concerned about liquor sales, Deputy Chief Bill Wolf said. "Anytime you introduce alcohol into anything it's going to increase calls for service."
The police department has not had significant problems with Ram Food, although in the past 1½ years police have responded to six reports of theft, criminal damage to property, fraud, and a fight in the parking lot, Wolf said.
"I think it's a reflection of the fact that it's a stressed neighborhood," he said.