Palos Hills votes against gaming cafés

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

Luck wasn’t on the side of video gaming café owners last Thursday in Palos Hills.

City officials voted 5-4 on Oct. 1 against creating a new classification in the liquor ordinance that would have paved the way for the gaming cafés to come to town. The vote does not impact the city’s current stance of allowing video gaming machines in restaurants.

Aldermen Marty Kleefisch (1st), Joan Knox (1st), Mark Brachman (2nd), A.J. Pasek (3rd) and Mary Ann Schultz (5th) voted against creating the ordinance while aldermen Pauline Stratton (2nd), Mike Lebarre (3rd), Ricky Moore (4th) and Dawn Nowak (5th) were in favor. Alderman Joe Marrotta (4th) was absent.

“It’s absolutely disappointing,” Nowak, who serves as the chairwoman of the city’s economic development committee, said of the vote. “Those (gaming café owners)are going to go someplace else and give their money to other cities.”

Nowak told the council there are 92 vacancies in town and recent efforts to bring Buona Beef to the corner of 111th Street and Roberts Road proved unsuccessful. Representatives of Laredo Hospitality Ventures, which is the parent company of café casino Stella’s Place, and Durbin’s addressed the council last month expressing interest in operating video gaming cafés in town.

“It’s unacceptable to me (to have 92 vacancies in town),” Nowak told her fellow aldermen. “I’m beating the doors down on businesses and there is not a lot of interest. I’d like to ask you all to try (with gaming cafés) and see where it goes.”

Calling herself a “proponent of small businesses,” Stratton was open to creating the new liquor classification for the gaming cafés.

“Even though the government keeps saying the economy is better it really isn’t,” Stratton said. “This is a trendy situation and we have nothing to lose if the businesses are willing to go forward and try something new.

“I’m not a proponent of gambling, but, if you’re looking at gambling, churches have raffles and bingo – both forms of gambling. If the businesses want to put forth some effort to help themselves and invariably help the city, then I will support it.”

Moore was also in favor of the gaming cafés, noting the city already allows its restaurants the option to have gambling machines.

“First of all, we are not doing or asking for anything that we are not already doing in the city,” Moore said. “It’s a very small footprint. It’s an occupied storefront instead of a vacant storefront. It’s revenue for the city. I wouldn’t have any problem supporting the two (Stella’s and Durbin’s) and seeing how it goes.”

Five restaurants in Palos Hills currently have video gaming terminals that generated a total of $65,000 for the city in 2014, Mayor Gerald Bennett said. Revenue from the machines is broken down four ways with 25 percent going to the state, 5 percent to municipality, 35 percent to the establishment owner and 35 percent to the terminal operator.  

Although there are plenty of vacant storefronts in town, Schultz said she did not support any of them being filled with gaming cafés.

“I don’t understand this. Why would you not want your municipality to be known for a nice place to raise a family as opposed to a nice place to go gambling,” Schultz asked rhetorically. “We have had businesses empty for I can’t tell you how many years and we have survived this. We will survive this. I just think (by allowing gaming cafés)you are opening up a can of beans that I am so vehemently against.”

Kleefisch told the council he has been opposed to video gaming from the beginning and remains opposed to it.

“I’ll go on record as saying I’m not for increasing the liquor licenses for this purpose,” he said. “One of the reasons (I’m against video gaming) is that it’s one of the most addictive forms of gambling. I don’t want to be a part of hurting anyone or their family by giving them another opportunity to lose their money.”

Kleefisch also feared allowing the gaming cafés could damage the city’s reputation.

“I believe the reputation of the city is somewhat tied into video gaming,” he said. “I’m concerned about the reputation of the city. I think we should look for more creative ways to make money for our city and provide services for our citizens other than video gaming.”

Laredo Hospitality Ventures operates nearly 40 gambling cafés in Illinois, including one each in Oak Lawn, Chicago Ridge and Hickory Hills. Nowak said the cafés have had no issues with unruly customers or financial troubles.

“Stella’s has 38 locations with no closures,” Nowak said. “Mayor Bennett has checked with other cities and came back with no problems (pertaining to Stella’s).”

Nowak said she would not be opposed to revisiting the creation of a liquor class for gaming cafés in the future. Bennett noted all it would take is for one member of the council to bring the topic up at a future meeting.

Bennett anticipated the city would not allow more than three or four gambling cafés in the city so voting against it last week was not going to cause Palos Hills to lose a lot of money.

“It wasn’t going to bring in a whole lot of revenue but it would create some revenue,” Bennett said.

“I told the council from the beginning that it’s up to them. If they want to create it that’s fine. If they don’t, that’s their choice.”

'Midnight Terror' expands frightful presen

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

Anyone wanting to get in the spirit of Halloween and scare up a good time may visit haunted houses in Oak Lawn, Worth, and Orland Park.

In Oak Lawn, the Midnight Terror Haunted House is operating for the second consecutive year in the former Beatty Lumber property at 9531 S. 52nd Ave., but it has tripled in size over last year, when 9,000 people came through.

The 4,000-square-foot property has been turned into two haunted houses — the Factory of Malum and Blackwoods Hospital — and more than 30 rooms, as well as an outdoor “chainsaw alley” maze. In the Factory of Malum, a demonic creature who oversees a labyrinth of rooms and corridors filled with phobia-related things such as insects, snakes, rats, living dolls, electrical hazards, fire-scorched clowns, pitch-black passages, and claustrophobia-inducing narrow hallways that visitors find their way through as fiendish factory workers shriek, stalk and surprise at every turn.

After getting through that, the next task is to the adjacent Blackwood Hospital, where the hospital beds, surgical tables, and padded cells are occupied by mangled, possessed, and deranged factory employees under the care of the sadistic Dr. Blackwood and gnarly nurses.

The gory attraction was dreamed up by creator Justin Cerniuk, 26, an Oak Lawn native who runs Midnight Terror with his uncle Robert W. Page, and friends Maciej Kulawiak and Mark Krupa.

“We moved it here because it outgrew my driveway (in the 9700 block of Massasoit Avenue),” said Cerniuk, who had been creating Halloween displays there with his uncle since he was 10.

“The last year we had it in the driveway, we had 5,000 people come through,” he said. Last year, 9,000 people visited the haunted house at Beatty Lumber, and more are expected to see the expanded operation this year. More than 70 actors are involved this year, up from 20 last year.

“The ideas just come from my imagination, and I bring them to my partners,” said Cerniuk, a Marine veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. “I’ve always been interested in Halloween and haunted houses. It became a hobby and then took over my life,” he said with a smile.

He said his “regular job” is a nightclub photographer, but he and his partners spend at least six months working on their haunted houses. They now have professional set designers, acting coaches and makeup artists, and a new LED lighting system and improved sound system, and CGI effects, including monitors displaying monstrous footage.

The wheelchair-accessible attraction, which opened Oct. 1, will run from: 7-10 p.m. on Thursdays and Sundays, with the final day of operation being Nov. 1; and from 7-11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays through Halloween.

Regular admission is $18 person, but various discounts are available. VIP passes are $25. Discounts for large groups are also available

During Family Day, from 3 to 6 p.m. on Halloween, children up to age 12 may go through for free, with the lights on, and trick-or-treat with the actors. During this three-hour period, families can also register for the 2016 Westside Baseball season or for a local Boy Scout troop

Free parking is available in the nearby Metra parking garage at 9525 S. Tulley Ave. Tickets, discount coupons, and more information may be obtained online at or by emailing This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Other local Halloween attractions include Haunted Woods “Dark in the Park,” sponsored by the Orland Park Lions Club at 14800 S. Ravinia Ave.

The event will be open from 7 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Oct. 9 and 10, 16 and 17, and 23 and 24. The last tickets will be sold at 10 p.m. General admission is $12 and VIP $17. A $2 discount is available with a donation of a perishable non-expired food item.

The Trick-or-Treat trail for ages 8 and under, for $3 per child, will be open from 3:30 to 6 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 24.

Tickets and more information may be obtained at

In Worth, the Park District is hosting Nightmare on the Terrace Haunted House from 6 to 10 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, Oct. 9-11, 16-18, and 23-25, in the Terrace Center, 11500 S. Beloit Ave.

Admission is $8 for the haunted house, which is recommended for ages 8 and up.

A Teens’ Terror at the Terrace, will also be open from 6-10 p.m. Friday, Oct. 9. Admission is $5 with student ID.

         More information may be obtained by calling the Worth Park District at (708) 448-7080.

Eye spy: Oak Lawn mayor calls out blogger for wearing spyglasses to event

  • Written by Bob Rakow

Just when you think Oak Lawn board meetings couldn't get any crazier...


This is a story straight from the annals of Hal Lipset. Or Mad magazine's Spy vs. Spy.


Lipset was a storied San Francisco sleuth who “helped elevate, or rather reduce, electronic surveillance to a miniature art,” The New York Times wrote in his 1997 obituary.


He was best known as the man who put a bug in a martini olive, The Times reported.


That brings us to Oak Lawn, where some subterfuge and skulduggery could be afoot.


Brian Schaeflein is not a private investigator, but at Tuesday's board meeting, Oak Lawn Mayor Sandra Bury has accused him of wearing glasses equipped with a hidden camera at last week’s 911 emergency dispatch center open house.


Schaeflein is a writer for an anonymously-owned blog that covers the village and has been highly critical of Bury’s administration.


He attended Tuesday’s village board and criticized Bury for blocking freedom of information requests he has submitted via the village website.


He also upbraided the mayor for using her personal blog to attack him.


“This is really unbelievable, mayor,” said Schaeflein, who threatened to sue the village if it continues to deny him information granted to reporters.


“This is a serious matter,” he said, adding that the village does not have the right to “pick and choose” the outlets than can submit FOIA requests.


Schaeflein did submit a FOIA request by hand to Village Clerk Jane Quinlan after Tuesday’s meeting.


By the way, Schaeflein denied wearing spyglasses to the Jan. 7 open house, but Bury insisted that the glasses looked much different than the ones he wore at Tuesday’s meeting.


“The temple was about three times the size,” Bury said. “They are not the same glasses. I’m an optometrist, and I know a thing or two about glasses.”


Cameras were not allowed inside the dispatch center during last week’s tour. Bury said Schaeflein compromised the safety of the people the center serves by violating the rule.


A handout that included a photo of Schaeflein sitting in the village board chambers on the night of the tour was available at Tuesday’s meeting.


The handout accused Schaeflein of wearing the spyglasses and not taking any notes during the open house presentation. He was not confronted about the glasses on the night of the tour, Bury said.


The mayor would not confirm that she directed emails from Schaeflein or the blog he works for to be blocked, but added “I have no problem with it being shut down.”


“I can’t tell you if he’s on the list. I suspect he probably is,” Village Manager Larry Deetjen said.


Deetjen said the village adds will block an email address if it receives complaints from village employees or officials about messages from that address.




Accident claims life of 'phenomenal' and 'exceptional' artist

  • Written by Bob Rakow

Anna Kreja’s artistic talents were apparent from her very first class at Mother McAuley High School.


“Her work was phenomenal from the get-go. She was really passionate about it,” said Kathleen Gordon Davis, chairman of the visual arts and technology department at the high school.


In fact, Gordon Davis said Kreja was one of the most talented and creative artists that she has encountered during her 29 years at the school.


“She was really exceptional,” Gordon Davis said.


Kreja was enrolled in integrated biology and art as a freshman, a course that introduces students to basic drawing techniques and composition skills along with the laboratory biology curriculum.

But the class was just beginning of her artistic journey at Mother McAuley.

She also took part in painting, art history, studio art and AP studio art classes. The portfolio she created in the advanced class won a Scholastic Art Silver Key Award.

Kreja, 19, of Oak Lawn, was struck by a car last Wednesday at about 1:30 p.m. near 110th Street and Cicero Avenue, police said.

She was taken to Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn where died a short time later, police said.

A 2013 Mother McAuley graduate, Ms. Kreja was crossing Cicero Avenue after getting off a bus when she was hit a car driven by a 53-year-old woman, police said. The driver was not cited, they said.

Ms. Kreja was coming home from classes at the Academy of Art, where she was a sophomore, and preparing to walk to her apartment on Keating Avenue where she lived with her mother, Karen, when she was hit.


Rich Kryczka, an instructor at the American Academy of Art, recalled Ms. Kreja as a quiet girl who thoroughly enjoyed her classes.


“Being at school is where she wanted to be. It was all in her smile,” said Kryczka, the chairman of the illustration department at the American Academy of Art.


“It’s sad. She was a really good kid,” said Kryczka, who taught an illustration class in which Ms. Kreja was enrolled.


He described Ms. Kreja as a soft-spoken individual who preferred to listen.


“She was a thinker,” he said.


Ms. Kreja had ambitions to be a professional illustrator and write children’s books, Kryczka said.


Duncan Webb, a dean at the American Academy of Art, said Kreja was “a conscientious and serious student.”


“She had a lifelong commitment to her art, and she was determined to be a successful professional artist,” Webb said. “At our institution, we have a family environment, and I can tell you students, faculty and staff are feeling loss. It looked like she had a bright successful future.”


Gordon Davis owns two of Ms. Kreja’s works, one that is displayed in her classroom at the school. She said Ms. Kreja had innate creativity, which is difficult to teach.


“It’s heartbreaking,” Gordon Davis said. “I think she was proud of her work but she didn’t have to toot her own horn.”


In addition to her mother, Ms. Kreja is survived by her father, Jack, and several aunts and uncles.


Visitation was at Hickey Memorial Chapel in Midlothian. A funeral Mass was held Wednesday at St. Christopher Church followed by interment at Resurrection Cemetery in Justice.

Warm someone’s day during this cold spell with donations to shelters

  • Written by Bob Rakow

The young girl’s words were prophetic; I just wasn’t paying much attention at the time.


The time was nearly 20 years ago when my wife, Annette, and I were taking a look at what would become our first house.


As we toured the basement, one of the owner’s two young daughters told me, “This is where we spend most of our time because it’s coolest in the summer and warmest in the winter.”


It was a telling remark, but, as I said, I wasn’t paying too much attention. Instead, I was wrapped up in the overall appearance of the Oak Lawn home: brick, three bedrooms, two bath, full basement with a ton of potential, nice backyard, two–car garage.


And, most importantly, it was in our price range. Six thousand dollars was all that stood between the initial asking and offering prices. We met in the middle and closed the deal around this time of year. We rented to the owner until spring so she could finish student teaching and we could honor our apartment lease.


We’ve done a lot of work to the house over the years, and I can’t imagine moving, but as I write this column from my home—in the midst of the year’s first cold snap—I sure am cold.


It’s nothing new. Happens any time the temperatures sink into the single digits. The reason is simple: the house is poorly insulated. I know this because when our bathrooms were remodeled, I got a first-hand look at what passed for “insulation” in the late 1940s, the era when my home was built.


Newspaper. Lots and lots of newspaper. Today, every new home is protected from the cold with thick layers of fiberglass insulation. It’s tough to imagine that builders once stuffed newspaper between the studs.


Over the years, we’ve installed a new boiler (we have hot water heat) and replaced the doors and windows, but the house remains less than toasty. I can still hear my father mumble, “It’s chilly in here” during time he lived with us.


The ultimate solution, I suppose, is to have insulation blown into the walls, but that seems expensive. And once the winter’s frigid weather passes, we sort of forget the fact that you could hang meat in our home.


It’s like anything else that’s not a life-threatening problem. You make the best of it. We plug in a space heater, add a blanket to the bed, keep out of the coldest parts of the house and try to be grateful for what we have.


That’s what I’ve been thinking about the past few days as I curse my drafty old house, to borrow a line from Jimmy Stewart in “It’s a Wonderful Life.’’


Cold or not, I do have a home to live in, two cars parked at the curb, a fridge full of food and a closet full of clothes. I go to work every day and even enjoy what I do for a living. No one in my immediate family suffers from serious illness. That’s plenty to help me realize that a cold house in not the end of the world.


After all, some folks live in unheated homes, dependent on space heaters, loads of blankets and winter clothing to get them through the night. Others don’t have a home and must live in their cars or make their way on the streets, risking frostbite or worse when the brutal Chicago winter kicks in.


PADS and other homeless shelters in our area do their best to help. Together We Cope, an excellent social service agency in Tinley Park, also serves in endless ways, including a foot pantry, financial assistance, clothing, back-to-school assistance and the adopt-a-child holiday program.


But what more could you and I be doing? Now’s the real time to ask. The fashionable time for these stories to appear is during the holidays, as various agencies, churches and community organizations strive to help the needy with meals, Christmas presents and other necessities.


But the need didn’t go away the day you took down your Christmas tree. People are still without work, struggling to make ends meet, in danger of losing their homes and so on.


It’s not that hard to lend a hand. There are plenty of food pantries in our area, including one run by the Evergreen Park, which provided Thanksgiving and Christmas meals to more than 160 families in the community. Call the pantry at 708-422-8776 for information of how to help.

In neighboring Oak Lawn, Pilgrim Faith Church runs a food pantry that serves Oak Lawn, Hometown, Worth, Burbank, Chicago Ridge and Alsip. Check out all the details about the pantry at


South Suburban PADS is always in need of volunteers and donations. Plenty of information can be found at


There are plenty of other food pantries, social service agencies as well as churches and community organizations that pitch in to help the needy. Catholic Charities and Red Cross come to mind. Pick one. Find a way to help. Make it a 2015 goal. You’ll be glad that you did.