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Cigar shop’s plans up in smoke after neighborhood outcry

Business wants to move to 400 Ashland Ave. in River Forest

By Nona Tepper

After listening to neighbors’ concerns about a proposed move to the 400 block of Ashland Avenue in River Forest, the owner of Cigar Oasis and his architect are rethinking their plans for the store, although neither would not comment on changes being considering.

Cigar Oasis must leave its longtime home at 7619 Lake St. after Lake and Lathrop LLC closed on the property in October 2017.

Store manager Anthony “Tony” Chacha said Cigar Oasis owner Victor Jakovljevic knew the store would have to move, since the new owner revealed plans to raze the block and build a five-story mixed-use development. Lake and Lathrop LLC is composed of Keystone Ventures and Sedgwick Partners.

“They’re talking about tearing this block down, we’re trying to get ahead of it,” Chacha said.

Jakovljevic bought 400 Ashland Ave. for $800,000 in September 2017. And, since he owns the place, it seemed natural the cigar store would move there, Chacha said. He said the owner was attracted to the larger space, because attendance at Cigar Oasis has grown since Jakovljevic took over store operations two years ago.

The store at 400 Ashland would be around 4,000 square feet and feature an outdoor patio, five dedicated parking spots onsite and two parking spaces offsite. Architect John Schiess declined to comment about the proposal.

When neighbors heard about the proposed move, about 60 residents piled into the River Forest Public Library on April 26 to voice their concerns, many which stemmed from second-hand smoke they believed they’d inhale because of the open-air balcony, said Patricia McClimans, a condo owner at 410 Ashland Ave.

“We don’t believe a tobacco shop belongs in a residential area, it belongs in a commercial area,” McClimans said. “There are commercial vacancies on Madison in River Forest. I have no problem with the owners, but if you walk down Lake Street you have to hold your breath.”

Chacha called the cigar shop an “old-time cigar store” where regulars come to unwind.

“It’s not like a Cheech and Chong place,” said Chacha, referring to the comedy duo. “We’re a friendly establishment.”

McClimans said she was also concerned about Cigar Oasis’ clientele disturbing condo owners — the store is open until 10 p.m. seven days a week – and patrons’ cars clogging streets, causing residential property values to fall. She also worried that people smoking cigars might set a negative example for children nearby.

“I just hope these people think two and three and four and five times and find another place to put their business,” McClimans said. She called their proposal ludicrous.    

Chacha countered that the only way second-hand smoke would be harmful to condo residents is “if it parks beneath your nose and sits there for five years.”

“It’s funny how people complain about the cigar shop, but nobody says nothing about the train that’s parked up there at night time and sits and parks with diesel burning,” Chacha said.

River Forest Village Administrator Eric Palm said the village does not have an ordinance that allows tobacco shops to operate in any zoning district, and that Cigar Oasis was grandfathered in to the previous land-use chart.

He said the architect has already had a pre-filing meeting with the Development Review Board to explain the group’s plans, and will need to seek a waiver from the land-use chart with the Development Review Board when they submit their planned development application.

“They have not scheduled any of that yet, there was a fair amount of opposition at the resident meeting, so my guess would be they would go back and reevaluate that and look at that feedback,” Palm said.

No formal hearings have been scheduled. Once they are, residents within 500 feet of the proposed business will be notified.

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