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Stay ice cold with these tips for running your air conditioner efficiently. | Pexels

Temperatures are expected to hit 99 degrees in Chicago this week. These tips for running your air conditioner will keep you cool.

Brutal heat has been beating down on the U.S., and across the globe, with high temperatures reaching above 90 degrees — and in some cases over 100 — recently in cities like Phoenix and Las Vegas, and Beijing.

When extreme heat strikes, the best place to be is inside somewhere — anywhere — with air conditioning. And, indeed, the vast majority of Americans can cool off in their own homes. Seventy-five percent of U.S. households have air conditioners according to the Department of Energy.

So how can you get the most out of your unit and stay cool? We asked Jeff Martin, owner of Day and Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing in Phoenix and his brother, Josh Perry, a plumber and HVAC installer, for advice.

Here are just a few tips that Martin shared with us:

How low should you go?

“So, an air conditioner is not a refrigerator,” says Martin. “The lowest I believe an air conditioner should be set is 68 degrees.”

But you may not need to go that low. Where you set your thermostat will depend on what goes on in your space. No matter the household, there’s going to be foot traffic throughout the house, leading to temperature changes.

“I like to keep my temperature down to 77 (degrees) when I’m at home,” says Martin’s Perry. “I have a programmable thermostat that increases that number to 81 (degrees), keeping the system on during the day, but not using as much energy to keep the house cool.”

Windows and plants

The sun’s rays coming through your windows is one of the ways your house absorbs heat. When choosing landscaping, consider planting trees that provide shade near a window, Martin says. Drapes and blinds in lighter colors are also good picks to help keep the heat out.

General maintenance

Performing general maintenance on your unit isn’t the most fun activity, but on hot days, you’ll be glad you did.

Longer cycles of your air conditioning system running on and off, noises, water leaks from condensation and equipment vibrations are all signs that it may need servicing, says Martin.

Also, call a technician when you experience an excessive split, an extreme difference in temperature between a home’s thermostat reading and the temperature of the air coming out of the air ducts.

Martin also recommends changing your air conditioner filters once every one-to-three months, certainly “when they turn that ashy gray.”

One air conditioner can run over some two thousand hours-per-year and should be “properly cleaned and maintained … according to the manufacturer’s recommendations,” says Martin.

Read more at USAToday.com.

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Surveillance video showed the attack on the security guard outside a River North condo building in 2017. | ABC7

Matthew DeLeon had received a less-than-honorable discharge from the Army after assaulting 46-year-old security officer Zoa Stigler in 2017.

An Army veteran who did two tours of duty in Afghanistan was sentenced Wednesday to three years in prison for punching out security guard and grandmother Zoa Stigler outside a River North apartment building in 2017.

Matthew DeLeon, who received a less-than-honorable discharge from the Army after he was charged in the assault, pleaded guilty to aggravated battery in a deal with prosecutors that was finalized at a hearing at the Cook County Courthouse in Skokie.

DeLeon slugged Stigler after she approached him as he vomited after a night of drinking outside the building at 630 N. Franklin St. — an incident that was captured on surveillance video and quickly went viral on the internet.

DeLeon fled the scene, but turned himself in two days later, after seeing video himself on the news. Defense attorney Richard Fenbert said Wednesday DeLeon did not remember hitting Stigler. Stigler suffered broken bones in her face, but was cleaning up DeLeon’s vomit when an ambulance arrived.

DeLeon had no criminal history and was a decorated combat veteran, added. DeLeon, who has suffered from mental health and drinking problems, expressed remorse for hitting Stigler, Fenbert said.

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Joseph Garcia. | Facebook

A company that surfaced in the investigation of Ald. Carrie Austin got help from city inspector Joseph E. Garcia, according to a newly unsealed fraud indictment.

A City Hall inspector has been charged with wire fraud and lying to the FBI in a case involving a city contractor who has surfaced in the investigation of Ald. Carrie Austin.

Joseph E. Garcia, 37, is accused of submitting bogus documents, falsely claiming to have inspected home-repair projects done for low-income Chicago homeowners, giving City Hall the go-ahead to pay the contractor, Oakk Construction of Summit.

Garcia also is charged with lying when the FBI questioned him on April 23, 2014, about what authorities described as a scam that also involved a city contractor, its president and its project manager, none of them identified by name.

But the Chicago Sun-Times has confirmed that the case involves Oakk, company president Alex Nitchoff and construction superintendent John Bodendorfer, who haven’t been charged.

Bodendorfer, 51, and Garcia are neighbors on the Southwest Side. Garcia lives in a home Bodendorfer owns. Bodendorfer oversees the construction jobs that Garcia was supposed to inspect in 2014 before Nitchoff’s company was paid by City Hall.

A federal grand jury indicted Garcia on March 21 — just before the five-year statute of limitations expired. The indictment remained under seal while the federal investigation continued.

Garcia appeared Tuesday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Young Kim, pleaded not guilty and was released pending trial.

Oakk is a longtime city contractor. It has made millions of dollars under City Hall’s Emergency Housing Assistance Program, repairing porches and roofs for low-income homeowners. Under the program, Oakk is supposed to be paid only after the work has been inspected.

According to the indictment, though, Garcia signed off on porch repairs for the company even though he hadn’t done the inspections.

In some cases, Garcia helped Oakk get paid before the porch projects were completed, authorities say.

Garcia has been a city employee since 2006. It’s unclear what his status is with the Chicago Department of Planning and Development, where he is listed as a rehabilitation construction specialist making about $92,000 a year.

On Sunday, the Sun-Times reported that Nitchoff and Oakk Construction were named in a grand jury subpoena seeking a wide range of information, including details about Nitchoff and his family’s businesses and about Austin’s purchase of a new, $236,000 home in the 12200 block of South Laflin Street. She bought the home with a $231,000 loan guaranteed by the federal government.

Facebook Alex Nitchoff, president of Oakk Construction.

Also named in that subpoena were Nitchoff’s father Boris Nitchoff, his brother Constantino Nitchoff and his daughter Lauren Nitchoff and four additional Nitchoff businesses — Mako Properties, Koal Enterprises, 995 LLC and Drop Box Inc. — as well as Maxwell Services Inc., owned by former Oakk employee Antonia Tienda.

That subpoena, which also sought information involving Bodendorfer, surfaced after federal agents raided Austin’s ward office on June 19.

Garcia and Bodendorfer hung up on a Sun-Times reporter Wednesday. Garcia’s attorney Stephen Hall wouldn’t comment.

Facebook John Bodendorfer, construction superintendent for Oakk Construction.

The indictment says that Garcia lied to the FBI when he denied having a personal relationship with Nitchoff and Bodendorfer.

As the Sun-Times previously reported, companies owned by the Nitchoffs and Tienda have been paid more $100 million for city projects that have included soundproofing homes near O’Hare Airport and Midway Airport and rehabbing or replacing porches and roofs for low-income homeowners.

Oakk has accounted for $63.6 million of those payments, from 20 city contracts, five of them for soundproofing work, records show. The bulk of the remaining work was for installing roofs and porches.

On Sunday, the Sun-Times reported that Alex Nitchoff and Oakk Construction were named in a grand jury subpoena.
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Entertainer and activist Jon Stewart, speaks at a news conference on behalf of 9/11 victims and families, Friday, July 12, 2019, at the Capitol in Washington. The House is expected to approve a bill Friday ensuring that a victims’ compensation fund for the Sept. 11 attacks never runs out of money. | AP Photo/Matthew Daly

The bill would ensure the victims’ compensation fund would not run out of money for 70 years. Paul said any new spending should be offset by corresponding cuts.

WASHINGTON — Republican Sen. Rand Paul on Wednesday blocked fast-track approval of a bipartisan bill that would ensure a victims’ compensation fund related to the Sept. 11 attacks never runs out of money.

Paul objected to a request by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., to approve the bill by unanimous consent.

Paul, R-Ky., questioned the bill’s 70-year time frame and said any new spending should be offset by corresponding cuts. The government already faces a $22 trillion debt, a figure that grows every year, Paul said.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates the 9/11 bill would result in about $10.2 billion in additional compensation payments over 10 years, including more than $4 billion for claims already filed.

Gillibrand said 9/11 first responders and their families have had “enough of political games.” The legislation has 74 Senate co-sponsors, including Gillibrand, and easily passed the House last week.

The bill would extend though 2092 a victims compensation fund created after the 2001 terrorist attacks, essentially making it permanent. The $7.4 billion fund is rapidly being depleted, and administrators recently cut benefit payments by up to 70%.

“Our 9/11 first responders and the entire nation are watching to see if this body actually cares ... about the men and women who answered the call of duty” after the attacks, Gillibrand said.

As the World Trade Center towers began to crumble that day, “there was one group of men and women — our heroes, the bravest among us — who ran the opposite way,” Gillibrand said. “They ran toward danger. They raced up towers. They went into harm’s way to answer the call of duty.”

In the months after the attacks, first responders cleaned up the aftermath, breathing in toxic air amid smoke, burning metal, crushed glass and electronics and other hazards.

“These heroes have since had to quit doing the jobs they love, providing for the families they love because they’re too sick,” Gillibrand said. “They’ve had to give up their income. They’ve had to give up their dreams and their future. They’ve had to face the terrifying reality that they are actually going to die because of what they did on 9/11 and the months thereafter.”

She and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, also of New York, urged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to bring up the bill as soon as Thursday. McConnell, R-Ky., has agreed to call a vote before Congress goes on its August recess.

Schumer, Gillibrand and Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., want McConnell to bring up the bill as a stand-alone measure and not package it with other legislation such as a broad budget and debt deal that would stave off the likelihood of a government shutdown this fall.

“The minute this bill hits the floor, it will pass,” Schumer said.

Debate over the measure comes a month after comedian Jon Stewart sharply criticized Congress for failing to act. Stewart, a longtime advocate for 9/11 responders, said lawmakers were showing “disrespect” to first responders now suffering from respiratory ailments and other illnesses as a result of their recovery work at the former World Trade Center site in New York City.

Stewart called the sparse attendance at a June 11 House hearing “an embarrassment to the country and a stain on this institution.” He later targeted McConnell for slow-walking a previous version of the legislation and using it as a “political pawn” to get other things done.

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Mexican drug kingpin Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera. | Associated Press

The problem is not only illegal drugs such as heroin, but also the opioid-based pills of Big Pharma, which have been overprescribed and overused

In a secretly taped phone call almost a decade ago, the co-leader of “El Chapo’s” drug cartel, Ismael Zambada, gave his son permission to tell federal investigators everything he knew — because it no longer mattered.

The drug cartels had moved on, and anything the son could tell investigators was utterly out of date and irrelevant.

The lesson?

Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán’s sentencing Wednesday in New York — to life plus 30 years in prison for crimes ranging from narcotics trafficking to a murder conspiracy — won’t make a dent in the illegal drug trade in the United States, not even in Chicago, where El Chapo once reigned.

The illegal drug trade across borders — heroin, cocaine and marijuana — is too big and lucrative to be slowed by a single conviction, even the conviction of a drug kingpin such as Guzman. If the United States is serious about curbing the use of illegal drugs, as well as the violence the drug trade brings, it must address the much larger problem of drug abuse and dependency.

Wholesale drug abuse is a scourge that involves not only illegally produced drugs like heroin, but also the opioid-based pills of Big Pharma, which have been overprescribed and overused.

Just this week, the Washington Post reported that America’s largest drug companies saturated the country with 76 billion oxycodone and hydrocodone pain pills from 2006 through 2012, a likely major explanation for an epidemic of drug overdose deaths.

It’s all part of the same story, experts say. When an addicted person no longer has access to one kind of drug, he or she will turn to another. Or, to use a specific example, when a person hooked on Oxycontin can no longer get a prescription opioid, he or she may turn to black market heroin.

Guzman profited off that desperation. He saw America’s increasing addiction to prescription opioid drugs, and he went more heavily into moving heroin. He saw — and wanted to capitalize on — the growing demand.

But let’s make a distinction. El Chapo was a parasite, not a businessman.

The mission of the big legal pharmaceutical companies is to develop responsible drugs that meet crucial needs. Vicodin, an opioid, is often what you want after, say, painful oral surgery. You are glad a doctor can prescribe it — if used responsibly.

Guzman’s Sinaloa cartel sold street drugs to anybody, regardless of the human toll. It is pathetic, though historically consistent, that he was seen as a folk hero by some, just like Al Capone and other killers.

Consider how deeply Guzman hurt Chicago, one of his top distribution centers and markets. His cocaine and heroin were all over the streets, and so was the violence. Remember how, in 2015, 7-year-old Amari Brown was shot down accidentally in a gang dispute that was believed to have been fueled by illegal drugs.

In the 25 years Guzman was at the top, his Sinaloa cartel brought an ocean of illegal drugs into the United States, much of it flowing through our city.

Thankfully, our nation’s opioid addiction crisis might, finally, be easing. Preliminary government data released Wednesday shows that overdose deaths dropped nationwide by about 5% last year, the first decline since 1990.

But as much as we’re happy that Guzman, 62, will rot away the rest of his life in a federal prison, we know his apprehension had little to nothing to do with that decline in opioid deaths. We know the challenge is greater.

“My message as a former federal prosecutor is we need to treat addiction as a public health crisis, not as a criminal issue,” Thomas Shakeshaft, a former assistant U.S. attorney who supervised the investigation that led to Guzman’s arrest in 2016, told us on Wednesday.

As long as there is the demand, there will be another El Chapo.

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com.

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Little Company of Mary Hospital in Evergreen Park | Little Company of Mary Hospital and Health Care Centers

Agreement would tie Evergreen Park operation to larger OSF network based in Peoria.

Little Company of Mary Hospital and Health Care Centers, based in Evergreen Park, is negotiating a merger with Peoria-based OSF HealthCare.

The two Catholic organizations said Wednesday they have begun a period of exclusive negotiations and expect to complete a merger in early 2020. They said they will spend the next several months working out final agreements and seeking regulatory and church approvals. Financial terms were not reported.

Besides its 252-bed hospital at 2800 W. 95th Street in Evergreen Park, Little Company of Mary’s network includes 11 other medical offices and outpatient centers, mostly in the Southwest Suburbs.

OSF includes 13 hospitals primarily in central Illinois, plus 113 other care centers. It is run by The Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis.

The merger would give Little Company of Mary access to new technology from a much larger partner. OSF, meanwhile, would gain a base in the Chicago area.

“As health care continues to evolve, we have the responsibility to ensure that we are planning for the future — both in terms of technology and innovation as well as preserving Catholic health care,” said Dr. John Hanlon, president and CEO of Little Company of Mary.

Bob Sehring, CEO of OSF, said, “We have long admired the strong Catholic heritage and commitment to the gift of life demonstrated by Little Company of Mary, and believe that, together, we can create better health and deliver value for our communities.”

In April 2018, Little Company of Mary and the Rush System for Health called off a merger without explanation. Rush has since entered into merger discussions with Swedish Covenant Health.

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Alligator hunter Frank Robb | Sun-Times/Rich Hein

After the job was done, the pressure of capturing Humboldt Park Lagoon’s most wanted finally got to Frank Robb.

He captured the beast. And then he had a good cry.

Frank Robb’s tears flowed along the banks of the Humboldt Park lagoon after he captured the alligator that had drawn the attention of millions.

“We taped him up and tied him up, and then a couple grown men had a nice little cry,” he said of the moment he shared with Taurus Drake, the Animal Care and Control inspector assigned to assist Robb.

“It’s the truth, man. There was a lot of emotion there, you know? There was a lot of pressure from every angle. It was a big energy release. It was like, ‘Man, we’ve got to sit down and digest this for a second.’ And it was a beautiful thing. Praise God.”

Not long before the capture, Robb had been on the phone with Mayor Lori Lightfoot, explaining in great detail his plan to catch the gator. It was a task that a volunteer with the Chicago Herpetological Society known as “Alligator Bob” could not get done in the preceding days with baited traps.

Robb, 39, talked with the Chicago Sun-Times about the capture while waiting for a sausage and pepperoni deep dish pizza at Lou Malnati’s Pizza in the West Loop.

It was a stop on the victory lap Robb, an instant local hero, has been taking around the city with Animal Care and Control Executive Director Kelly Gandurski.

“Thank you for letting us accomplish what we came here to accomplish,” Robb said in prayer before taking his first bite.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

On Tuesday night, he threw out the ceremonial first pitch at a Cubs game, where he chatted gator hunting with pitcher and fellow Floridian Kyle Ryan.

“It was one nonstop selfie,” he said of his interaction with people who recognized him. Robb also signed a man’s baseball hat after telling the man the signature would only ruin his hat.

Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts stopped by.

Wednesday morning, Robb turned on Buckingham Fountain and visited the Bean. He also took a ride on Navy Pier’s Centennial Wheel.

Robb had never visited Chicago before.

“Everybody has preconceived notions of big cities, just couldn’t be further from the truth,” he said. “The people I’ve met here and the friends I’ve made, those are friends for life, no doubt about it.”

A decent portion of his prior knowledge of the city came from watching “The Blues Brothers.”

His day job keeps him in Florida. Robb traps nuisance gators, mainly for the state. Places he’s caught gators include front porches, swimming pools, elevators, cars and a missile silo.

His reputation earned him a ticket to Chicago. He arrived Sunday night, caught the gator about 1:30 a.m. Tuesday and is returning to Florida on Thursday.

Robb’s meteoric rise in the brief visit seems unprecedented — attention he swears he did not want.

“I expected to be in here and be low profile, catch an animal and be gone and nobody [would] even know I was here,” he said.

Robb, who is single, said he was unaware of his notoriety attracting any potential companions.

“I saw some comments online about that,” countered Animal Care and Control employee Jennifer Schlueter.

“Oh my God,” Robb said, deadpan.

“I don’t think you’ll remain single very long,” joked Gandurski.

Robb said his three dogs — shelties named Hopie, Marble and Blitz — are eager for him to return.

“I’m sure they’re excitedly waiting for me to come home,” he said.

Meanwhile, the gator is scheduled to be transported Thursday from Animal Care and Control headquarters on the South Side to its new home in Florida at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park.

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Former Forest Preserve District Police Chief Kelvin Pope pictured at a July 2018 press conference alongside Commissioner Luis Arroyo Jr. | Mitchell Armentrout/Sun-Times

Pope was not named in the scathing report released Tuesday by the county inspector general’s office. But forest preserve officials say he helped dismiss the ticket that was issued to a “political associate” of the unnamed commissioner.

The Cook County Forest Preserves chief of police has resigned after a government watchdog revealed he helped make a parking ticket disappear for a county commissioner’s associate caught in a disabled-only parking spot.

Chief Kelvin Pope submitted his letter of resignation Tuesday, according to a statement released Wednesday afternoon by Forest Preserves General Supt. Arnold Randall, who thanked Pope for his service even though he “intervened in the matter” highlighted by Inspector General Patrick Blanchard’s office.

”This incident does not align with the more than three decades that [Pope] has worked in law enforcement,” Randall was quoted as saying. “However, it is in direct opposition to our mission to ensure that our work is not influenced or directed by political interference.”

Pope was not named in the scathing report released Tuesday by the county inspector general’s office. But forest preserve officials say he helped dismiss the ticket that was issued to a “political associate” of the unnamed commissioner.

Pope could not immediately be reached for comment. He previously worked as a University of Chicago police officer and served as a bodyguard to Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, according to a 2011 Better Government Association report published in the Chicago Sun-Times, before making his way up the forest preserve police ranks.

The report doesn’t specify where or when the $250 ticket was issued, but the associate allegedly asked the officer and an accompanying trainee, “Do you know who I am?”

But Blanchard said in a telephone interview the ticket was issued during the fall of 2018.

The associate then reached out to the commissioner about the ticket, who contacted a “high ranking [Forest Preserve Police] official” about voiding the citation. The commissioner said the officer who gave it out “displayed a poor attitude” and asked for the cop to be sent to his office for questioning, the report says.

The ticket was dismissed, and Pope allegedly sent the officer to the commissioner’s office to be “personally subjected to criticism.”

In an interview with the inspector general’s office, the commissioner acknowledged reaching out to the police brass and setting up the meeting to “challenge the issuance of the ticket.”

But the commissioner also claimed to want to “address problems between minority and law enforcement communities” and to go over the procedure for challenging the ticket — explanations that “strained credulity,” according to Blanchard, because the commissioner also acknowledged none of the “historical problems” of community-police relations were at play, and the ticket-challenging procedure was listed on the ticket.

Blanchard’s report laments the fact that a trainee officer “started his career observing what it can mean to issue a citation to someone ... who utters the words ‘do you know who I am?’ as was the case here.

“Additionally, these circumstances perpetuated a culture, if not a custom and practice, that political influence has its place in law enforcement activities,” the report says.

Blanchard recommended reinstating the parking ticket, and suggested the police department institute a policy that attempted political interference be reported through the chain of command. The report, issued a day before Pope’s resignation, had suggested “significant disciplinary action” for him and reprimands for other higher-ups who didn’t speak up.

Pope made $106,927 in 2017, county payroll records show. His tenure was most memorably marked by a video-recorded confrontation last summer showing one of his officers standing idly by while a drunken loudmouth hurled racial epithets at a woman wearing a T-shirt featuring the Puerto Rican flag. That officer quit before he could face any discipline, and a hate-crime trial for the man in the video is still pending.

In his statement, Randall, the forest preserve superintendent, asserted that “avoiding any undue favoritism is fundamental to our responsibility to provide management of the preserves that is professional and unbiased. We have worked hard to create a work culture that emphasizes transparency and accountability. That cannot be compromised.”

The county’s Board of Ethics will review Blanchard’s allegations and consider possible discipline for the commissioner.

The forest preserve district touted itself as “one of the first agencies to be found to be in substantial compliance of the Shakman Consent Decree” regarding patronage hiring. The agency has a full-time director of compliance, “and has clear procedures and regular trainings on these issues,” officials said.

Read more about the investigation on pages 12 through 14 of the inspector general’s full report:

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Chicago-based Grassroots Cannabis is being sold to Curaleaf for $875 million. | AP file photo/Marina Riker

Massachusetts-based Curaleaf cited the “deep experience in the Midwest market” of Chicago-based Grassroots Cannabis in the acquisition.

It’s high times for Chicago’s Grassroots Cannabis, which will be sold to Massachusetts-based Curaleaf in an $875-million deal announced Wednesday.

The move will allow Curaleaf Holdings Inc. entry into Illinois, which is set to become one of the country’s largest recreational marijuana markets on Jan. 1.

Curaleaf will acquire Grassroots for $75 million in cash and the rest in stock options, the company said in a statement announcing the deal, which is expected to close in early 2020.

Curaleaf has been snapping up marijuana companies across the country.

Just earlier this month, the Phoenix Business Journal reported that Curaleaf had purchased two Arizona dispensaries for $25.5 million in cash and stock. The company also recently acquired Cura Partners, owners of the Select brand of THC products that are popular in the West Coast market, in a deal worth more than $948 million.

With the purchase of Grassroots, Curaleaf will become the largest medical and recreational cannabis company in the country, with access to a total population of approximately 177 million people, according to the announcement.

Curaleaf Holdings Inc. currently operates in 12 states and has 45 dispensaries, according to the company’s website.

The deal with Grassroots will bring expand Curaleaf’s presence to 19 states with 131 dispensary licenses and 20 marijuana cultivation sites, according to a statement from the company.

“Today’s announcement is a testament to the hard work of the many employees that helped make Grassroots the leading cannabis company in the Midwest,” Grassroots CEO Mitch Kahn said in a statement. “This acquisition will enable us to give our patients and retail partners greater access to products that adhere to the highest standards of quality and reliability, and our employees the opportunity to be part of a best-in-class operator.”

In March, Grassroots announced it had raised $90 million in venture capital funding to fuel growth, including a hiring blitz last month. In addition to Illinois, Grassroots has facilities in Nevada, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Maryland, Oklahoma, Ohio, Vermont, North Dakota, Arkansas and Connecticut.

Saying the Grassroots’ team “brings deep experience in the Midwest market,” Curaleaf also announced that Grassroots co-founders Matt Darin and Steve Weisman will join Curaleaf’s senior management team and Kahn will fill a seat on Curaleaf’s board.

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“Mass” at Ravinia in 2018 | Patrick Gipson

Chicago Craft Beer Fest, Taste of River North just a sampling of the festivals taking place this weekend.

Make big plans for the week ahead in Chicago. There’s so much to see and do — and Taste! Here are some highlights for July 19-25:

Church under the stars

Leonard Bernstein’s “Mass,” a hit last summer, returns to Ravinia for one performance. Jacqueline Kennedy commissioned the musical theater piece in 1971 for the opening of Washington’s John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. The music reflects Bernstein’s eclectic musical interests — rock, gospel, folk, Broadway and jazz. The many performers on stage range from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and baritone Paul Szot to the Chicago Children’s Choir and the Highland Park High School Marching Band. At 8 p.m. July 20, Ravinia, 200 Ravinia Park Rd, Highland Park. Tickets: $14-$90. Visit ravinia.org

Exchange students Smart Museum Dianna Frid’s “Soledad”

In 2017 and 2018, six Latino artists from Chicago and six from Havana took part in a cultural exchange where they traveled to one another’s cities and met with local artists, visited studios and explored the culture and city. The artists then used their experiences to develop new work for the exhibition “Cross Currents/Intercambio Cultural,” a partnership between the Smart Museum of Art and the National Museum of Mexican Art. Co-curator Alison Fraunhar says the exhibit “celebrates the opening of pathways of communication and understanding between previously unconnected individuals and communities.” To Aug. 18 at Smart Museum, 5550 S. Greenwood. Admission is free. Visit smartmuseum.uchicago.edu.

Spotlight on Colombia Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Sample the culture of Colombia from cuisine to dance and music (cumbia and vallenato) at the three-day Colombian Fest. The lineup includes Lisandro Meza, Grupo Niche, Alex Manga, Adalberto Santiago, Johnny Ventura, Khriz y Angel and more. Plus food, dance workshops, games and arts and crafts. From July 19-21, Kelvyn Park, 4438 W. Wrightwood. Visit colombianfestchicago.com.

Inspired by the classics Alysse Gafkjen John Paul White

John Paul White has cultivated his career in Nashville for two decades, first as a songwriter for a major publisher and then as half of The Civil Wars, a duo that won four Grammy Awards. Now on his third solo album, White, inspired by the “Countrypolitan” scene of the ’60s (Roy Orbison, Chet Atkins, etc.), collaborated with classic Nashville songwriters including Whisperin’ Bill Anderson and Bobby Braddock. He says he approached the songwriting in a new way: “I really wanted there to be a torch song quality to it, the classic timeless quality. To not be afraid of the big note, and not be afraid of the drama.” Caleb Elliot opens at 8 p.m. July 25, Lincoln Hall, 2424 N. Lincoln. Tickets: $18, $20. Visit lh-st.com.

Hyde Park Block Party Stoptime 341 Silver Room Block Party

Started in 2002 by Silver Room owner Eric Williams, the Silver Room Sound System Block Party has grown into a vibrant and diverse event for all ages. This summer it celebrates the spirit of community with the theme “The Greater Good” and features four performance stages, an interactive youth pavilion, a fashion show, vendor marketplace and rolling rink. Organizers are urging people to take public transportation, rideshare or bikes to the event as huge crowds are expected. From noon-10 p.m. July 20, on 53rd from Lake Park to Dorchester. Admission is free. Visit silverroomblockparty.com.

Neo family reunion Dawn Hurwitz Neo dancers back in the day

For 36 years, the Chicago nightclub Neo could be found down the alley at 2350 N. Clark. Famous for contributing to the growth of the goth and industrial music scene, it was a popular stop for generations of clubgoers. Now they’ll get a chance to reminisce at Neo Reunion — 4 Decades, a 40th anniversary celebration featuring Neo DJs Suzanne Shelton, Glenn Russell, Scary Lady Sarah, Bill Saveley, Carrie Monster and Jeff Moyer. “I’ve played music at a lot of clubs through the years, but there was no place like Neo,” Moyer says. “It was the music, the people, and the community that made it special to so many of us.” At 8 p.m. July 20, Metro, 3730 N. Clark. Tickets: $21. Visit metrochicago.com.

More festival fun
  • Find music, food and pretty gardens at Sheffield Street Fest, July 19-21, and Sheffield Garden Walk, July 20-21, on Sheffield between Webster and Fullerton. Visit sheffieldneighborhood.org.
  • Local restaurants are featured at Taste of River North, July 19-21, Ward Park, 630 N. Kingsbury. Visit tasteofrivernorth.com.
  • Peruse fine art at Artfest Michigan Avenue, July 19-20, 435 N. Michigan. Visit amdurproductions.com.
  • Step into hops heaven at the Chicago Craft Beer Fest, July 20-21, on Lincoln between Addison and Roscoe. Visit chicagoevents.com.
  • Explore fun for the entire family at the Lake County Fair, July 24-28, Lake County Fairgrounds, Grayslake. Visit lcfair.com.

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