Friday, May 1, 2009

Devon Merchants Jump on Bootleg Cigarette Bandwagon

My spies on Devon Ave. reliably report that you can now buy single cigarettes under the counter at more than one little store there.

This doesn't at all surprise.

In an earlier post I reported witnessing an itinerant entrepreneur selling bootleg packs of Newports in Warren Park. Since the imposition of the Pelosi-Obama Tobacco Prohibition tax on April 1st, the cost of tobacco products has skyrocket and with the heavy IL, Cook County and Chicago sin taxes piled on top, we have de facto cigarette prohibition here for all but the very rich.

As with the 1918-1933 "noble experiment" in alcohol prohibition, it is inevitable that a black market in smokes would develop and it has, with all the predictability of Chicago's lousy weather or a Cubs losing streak.

Now, licensed Chicago merchants are getting into the act. Reportedly, kids on Devon can request purchase of a single cigarette from several provenders there.

That is illegal in Chicago, of course, but so were speakeasies in the 1920s.

There are only two places where I ever heard of store owners selling single smokes. Once in Daley's clout laden Bridgeport and once in New Orleans, a city which seesaws back and forth with Chicago for title to "Most Politically Corrupt American City."

When on a shrimp buying excursion to New Orleans in the 90s, I was accompanied by two black guys and resultantly got to see parts of the Big Easy that were generally off-limits to the usual white tourist. These two black guys regularly went down there to buy shrimp for transport and resale in Washington, D.C. and to visit "their New Orleans wives." Apparently they each had a wife in D.C. and another in New Orleans. The precise details of the legal nuptuals, if any, were rather murky, but it seemed to work for them.

Anyway, in one of the predominantly black areas that invariably went underwater a decade later, I went into a little corner 7-11 type shop and was astounded to see that Newport actually produced cigarette packs, containing only 5 cigarettes, for this impoverished market and that kids were sent down to the shop to pick up single cigarettes for grandma or grandpa that would be on sale for 35 cents or so.

Some years later, I was told by a Bridgeport drug store/liquor store owner that he had unearthed a supply of old Alpine cigarettes (remember them) that had been gathering dust, forgotten in his storage room since about the time, his neighbor, Richard J. Daley was making his first run for City Clerk. He began selling the old, stale Alpines individually, for a quarter or so, to the black customers, who would cross Wentworth Ave into forbidden Bridgeport to buy his overpriced booze.

The Bridgeport merchant told me that one of his neighbors, who worked at City Hall, would alert him when the City inspectors would be coming, and the Alpine singles would disappear, until the coast was again clear. At a quarter a piece, he made a tidy little profit on thost dusty old Alpines.

And now a new generation of South Asian Chicago merchants are engaging in the same practice on the far North side in the West Rogers Park area.

Whenever government sticks its nose into the free exchange of goods and services, provenders will find a way to skirt the law. It's in the age old tradition of Alphonse Capone and Bugs Moran.

As P.J. O'Rourke once noted: "Giving power and money to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teen age boys."

1 comment:

  1. I know this Devon Ave. area really well and very well aquainted with it and this pretty much happens on a regular basis with your local liquor store usually at Devon Liquor Pantry where they sell all your pornographic magazines and "looseys" as they call them to minor along with their liquor but yet still no tickets and inspectors have looked into it


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