Credit: Igor Studenkov/Staff Reporter

The 1937 Group, a Chicago-based cannabis grower and seller, has purchased the former Doc Ryan’s bar with plans to open what would be Forest Park’s second cannabis dispensary.

Real estate broker David King told the Review that the sale went through Sept. 26. The announcement comes six months after another cannabis dispensary company, the Olympia Fields-based Euphoria LLC, tried to buy the building, only to pull out of the deal in late March.

The 1937 Group operates a dispensary in downstate Tilton, near Danville, and its planned dispensary in Brookfield is slated to open in December. Sonia Antolec, the company’s chief legal counsel, told the Review that they thought the “vibrant” and “diverse” Madison Street corridor would be a good location. She said that they aren’t concerned about the Bloc, because they felt that Forest Park’s northeast corner is far enough that the two dispensaries won’t be directly competing. In fact, they said, they hope that cannabis users would patronize both locations.

The 1937 Group is a Black-owned company that takes its name from the federal Marijuana Act of 1937 that outlawed cannabis in the United States. Its enforcement often targeted minority communities. CEO Ambrose Jackson is a former healthcare administrator. The company plans to open 10 dispensaries – the maximum allowed for one entity under state law. It also operates a cannabis manufacturing facility in Broadview, which sells products to other dispensaries throughout Illinois.

Under the zoning changes approved in February, cannabis dispensaries are allowed by right on Madison Street, so 1937 Group doesn’t need village approval. The number of dispensaries is capped at one.

“We are hoping to bring the dispensary to the Forest Park area that will change the mindset and the landscape of cannabis, and the cannabis customer experience,” Antolec said. “Madison Street strip is very vibrant, it’s diverse and has a great traffic flow not just for Forest Park but the neighboring communities as well. The Doc Ryan’s building is a great location and offers great parking options for customers.”

The bar is located next to the Constitution Court’s village-owned parking lot, and another village-owned parking lot is located at the 400 block of Beloit Avenue. Pace bus Route 318 passes in front of the building.

Illinois requires all dispensaries to put in extensive security measures, including installing surveillance cameras inside and outside the building that work around the clock and stream the footage to the local police department. The cannabis and the cash must be stored in secured vaults. Antolec said that they hired a professional security firm, and that they always work with local police departments “to make sure that we’re keeping customer and employer safety at the forefront.”

She said that the 1937 Group intends to hire 20-25 employees, and they want to try to hire as many of them from Forest Park as they can.

“We know that, being a cannabis operator, we have opportunities to hire from the community where we’re operating – that is our first priority and goal,” Antolec said. “We also use hiring to eliminate some of the barriers that people of color face when they try to get into the cannabis industry.”

She said that they still need to do interior renovations of the building. Antolec did not have a firm timetable for when it would open, saying only that they hope to open as soon as possible.

“We’re not concerned [about the competition from the Bloc], because Harlem and Madison [corridors] have so much traffic and so much population density around them individual,” Antolec said. “We hope that people who try the one will try the other.”

King told the Review that, as Forest Parker and a broker, he saw this as another step toward shedding Madison Street’s image as nothing but late-night bars.

“Our town is growing up,” he said. “The days of the Big Bar staying open to 3 a.m. are gone. Doc Ryan’s was the last big bar in town. The transition from the Big Bar to alternative uses is one that I believe will continue, and I’m very excited to be part of that trend.”