More than anything, Jeff Jablonski wishes he'd had a little warning.
Nine and a half years ago, the father of three launched The Natural, a scrappy, no-frills sports bar at 6535 Joliet Rd. that boasted of 25-cent wing nights, beanbag toss tournaments and carryout liquor until 4 a.m.
The bar is nestled in a tiny strip mall that was, up until recently, part of unincorporated Lyons Township in Cook County.
But late last month, the City of Countryside annexed the northeast corner of Joliet and Willow Spring Roads to make way for a luxury condo development. On Oct. 25, with less than a day's notice, Jablonski learned, from an employee who had spoken to a city official, that he would have to shutter his bar, putting himself and 21 employees out of work.
The city gave warning by posting legal notice 10 days earlier in a daily community newspaper, said Eric Peck, a lawyer representing Countryside. Jablonski said he never saw the ad.
Although the bar doesn't stand in the way of construction, Countryside Mayor Carl LeGant said The Natural doesn't fit in with the new wave of well-to-do residents moving into the area.
The Clocktower Pointe condos, which are being built just north of Joliet Road, start at the low-to-middle $400,000 range.
LeGant, who also serves as the city's liquor commissioner, refused to issue Jablonski a liquor license, in effect shutting down his business.
"You aren't going to get any young couples that well-set who appreciate anything detracting from their investment," LeGant said.
So far this year, home sales in the city have averaged $416,687, said real estate agent Michael Ruiz of Seremak Real Estate in Schaumburg.
Jablonski said LeGant is confusing his bar with the defunct Tooters Bar & Grill, a place nearby that he said was known for its "boom boom" music and frequent bar brawls.
He said The Natural, in contrast, attracted a tamer, more diverse crowd--a place where deejays would play everything from Frank Sinatra to Metallica. It had perhaps a few drunken scuffles each year, he said.
LeGant said The Natural made "too much ruckus" and said Countryside police had "a stack" of incident reports to back his assertion.
A review of Countryside's police records from the last year showed a handful of minor disturbances at The Natural. In the most serious incident on file, an officer used a stun gun on a man who was said to have resisted arrest.
LeGant, Countryside mayor since 1978, conceded he had never stepped inside either The Natural or Tooters.
Jablonski, 46, said the closing devastates him. Unable to sleep, he said he has become severely depressed and anxious.
"I mortgaged my life to get this place," he said. "Everything you've worked for gets ripped out from under you."
Inside the bar, cobwebs and ghost figurines lined the walls--decorations intended for a Halloween party Oct. 28, two nights after Jablonski had to close the bar. He said he begged LeGant to give him some time but said the mayor waved him off "like a junkyard dog."
LeGant showed little sympathy for Jablonski's plight.
"They act like I am hurting the elderly and kids," he said. "We all have problems."
Northwestern University law professor David Dana said Jablonski might have a legal claim against Countryside.
"Usually, [a municipality] has to give some transition relief--some time for him to get his investment back," Dana said. "Otherwise, the city would need to show the bar had been a real nuisance."
Still, Dana said such a fight would be expensive and time-consuming, no easy feat for a small-business owner.
Peck, the lawyer for Countryside, said the city followed state statute to the letter when it annexed the property.
But critics such as Sandy Wozniak, a bartender at The Natural, said city officials were cruel.
"I don't understand how someone could come in and take away someone's livelihood like that," said the Lyons mother of four. "How you can tell your kids, `Sorry, there won't be a Christmas?'"
Originally published November 17, 2006, in Chicago Tribune.
It's closing time ... for good
A Countryside bar is shuttered to accommodate luxury condos
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