May 25, 2007

City closes Magic Mart for selling alcohol to minors

Late last month, the city shut down Magic Mart, a convenience store located at 1457 East 53rd Street, for selling liquor to minors. The store is one of the three stores on 53rd Street in Hyde Park that sells alcohol; the other two are Binny’s and Kimbark Liquors.

Over the past 13 years, the store was cited six separate times for selling alcohol to minors, according to the Hyde Park Herald. This time, on April 27, the city revoked the store’s liquor, packaged goods, retail food establishment, and tobacco retail over-the-counter licenses, forcing the store to close for at least 30 days.

Gregory Stedman, the general counsel for the City of Chicago’s Department of Business Affairs and Licensing (DBA), told the Herald that the owners have appealed the decision as well as a previous suspension. State and city laws require that businesses whose liquor licenses have been suspended twice within one year must stay closed during the appeal process.

Calls to the DBA for comment went unreturned.

Magic Mart was well loved by a number of students, who appreciated its proximity to Shoreland Hall and its late hours compared to other Hyde Park shops.

“It’s a convenience store that is actually open late and near to my apartment,” said fourth-year and Magic Mart customer Veronica Mayer, noting that the only 24-hour convenience store in Hyde Park is the Walgreens on East 55th Street and South Lake Park Boulevard. Although Mayer has only purchased liquor from the store once, she said she was carded.

Josh Brokaw, a second-year Shoreland resident, frequented the store because he found it to be a good beer-run alternative to Kimbark Liquors. In his dozen or so trips to Magic Mart, he found that they often carded students. But Brokaw suggested that it was still easy to obtain liquor without an ID.

“There was one lady that wouldn’t let you carry out booze if you didn’t have an ID,” he said. “But the guys smoking cigarettes behind the counter would hand you the case or walk it out for you.”

“It’s never good to lose a good, liquor-selling, free-cigarette-giving convenience store,” he added.

Other students echoed Brokaw’s sentiment. Third-year Emily Vitale called the store a “good place,” adding that “the guys working there were sweethearts.” She is angry that the city has closed down the store.

“What right do they have to shut down a place that’s useful to so many people?” she asked, although she assumed the store was selling liquor to minors.

Fourth-year Andy Kiersz also bemoaned the closing: “I’m disappointed because it was a good place to go when all the other places on 53rd were closed.” Kiersz cited the store’s convenient location and long opening hours as major reasons he bought his alcohol at Magic Mart.

But he was not shocked by the city’s allegations against the store. “I’m not surprised. They really didn’t card too hard,” he said.

Despite the popularity of Magic Mart with some, others seemed unaware of the store’s existence.

“I’ve never even heard of it,” said second-year Michelle Chun, who lives in the Shoreland. Fourth-year Alice Hutton said she has never stepped inside the store, due to its “sketchiness.”

Himmel conceded that Magic Mart always seemed a “little shady, but not seriously.” When she last visited the already closed store, “there was a little altar and people were writing memorial notes to the store,” she said. “Everybody likes a good corner store.”