Sorry, No More Condoms After Midnight
by Nicolás Medina Mora Pérez | Sep 14, 2012 2:33 pm
Posted to: Business/ Economic Development, Fair Haven
As midnight drew near, a seemingly intoxicated customer walked in looking for beef jerky. It cost $1.50; she was 50 cents short.
“When’s closing time?” she asked the clerk. “I’ll get it to you before then.”
It used to be 2 a.m., the clerk replied. Now, at the urging of police, the store closes at 12 on weeknights, sacrificing neighborhood convenience in the cause of crime prevention.
“Damn!” said the customer. “How about tomorrow morning?”
The scene took place Monday night at Pop’s Grocery store on Grand Avenue. A month ago, the police asked small businesses in the area to close earlier as part of an effort to reduce crime. Especially Pop’s, which in its present and previous incarnation seemed to figure in the narratives of a whole lot of middle-of-the-night mayhem.
Shop owners said OK. Including Pop’s, which agreed to forgo hundreds of dollars per night from some of its most lucrative selling hours and lock up earlier, even if it still remains open later than other stores.
Alberto García (pictured at top), the 26-year-old clerk who had to break the bad news to the intoxicated customer, has worked at Pop’s for five years. When he started, the store was open 24 hours a day. Two years ago the police asked them to close at 2 a.m. Then came the midnight request. As a result, according to García, Pop’s is losing $300 a night, mostly in unsold cigarettes, condoms, soda, and fried chicken. (The store still remains open until 2 a.m. on weekends.)
The cops’ argument is that late-night convenience stores are magnets for trouble. They said that people—some drunk, some ill-intentioned—often gather outside these stores and assault customers and passers-by alike.
“We just asked storeowners to be better neighbors,” said top Fair Haven cop Sgt. Anthony Zona, who made the requests to close earlier. “It’s important to do what’s best for the community, and not just what benefits a single business owner.”
Some neighbors welcomed the changes; others were not so pleased, based on conversations with final-hour customers Wednesday night.
The dissidents argued that closing the stores early implies punishing law-abiding citizens for the crimes of others. They said that people have the right to buy milk late at night if they need it, and that storeowners should be allowed to stay open late if they want to make more money. They argued that the answer to crime on Grand Avenue should be a heightened police presence.
García said that he doesn’t particularly mind the new hours.
“The cops asked us to do this, and we respect that,” he said.
“We Don’t Want To Risk It”
Several dozen customers passed through Pop’s Monday night. Among them were Mercedes Huerta, 35, and Alberto García, 39, a Mexican couple (pictured) who have lived in Fair Haven for seven years.
“We come to this store very often, usually at night,” Huerta said in Spanish as she placed two packets of tortillas on the counter.
Huerta and García said that they often feel unsafe at Pop’s.
“Before getting off the car, we always check to see if there’s people outside,” said García. “We don’t want to risk it.”
“Things are a little quieter now [as a result of the time change], but sometimes when we call the police they just don’t show up,” said García. “We sometimes have to lie and say that someone’s getting beat up or something to make sure that they actually come.”
Standing by the fried chicken stand as García and Huerta paid for their purchases stood John, an East Haven man who declined to give his last name. John said that he comes to Pop’s “about once a week,” usually to get a quick bite before visiting a friend of his who lives in New Haven.
“A lot of people congregate here at night,” he said as he bit into a chicken thigh. “I always look before I come here, because there’s always people looking for change or money—or something else.”
John explained that he installed an alarm system in his car to make sure nobody breaks into it. He added that he tries not to bring his wallet on his visits to Pop’s.
“There’s a lot of desperate people in a lot of desperate situations,” he said. “The economy is really bad and that has an effect on people.”
“I know what places to go and what places not to go,” he added. “If this wasn’t a good place to come, I wouldn’t come here. It’s homey and inexpensive.”
Shortly after John finished his dinner, Daniel Viero-Sanchez, an 18-year old who lives around the corner from Pop’s, arrived to buy some candy. He said that asking the stores to close early is “probably a good idea.”
“I once saw a guy get beat up right outside,” he said. “Three people dragged him out of his car and started beating him up. Then the guy ran away and the three guys started chasing him, leaving the car there.”
“They Are Called ‘Convenience Stores’ For a Reason”
As it got later, the crowd at Pop’s became rowdier. A group of teenagers—two girls and a boy—walked into the store around 11:30. They declined to give their names and ages, but said that they were all “18 and up.” When asked about the new policy, they expressed their discontent.
“Why are cops tryin’ to do shit like that?” asked the boy.
“People got children!” said one of the girls. “What if they need milk or something?”
“Yeah, niggas need them duchies!” said the boy.
“Watch your mouth!” said the other girl.
“I’m an adult!” replied the boy.
One of the girls added that they usually come to Pop’s after the clubs close to get some fried chicken. She was disappointed to learn that John had eaten the last piece.
Nelly, a 40-year old man who declined to give his last name, arrived as the teenagers were leaving. He called the new strategy a cop cop-out.
“I think the cops don’t want to do their job,” he said as he bought a loose cigarette under a sign that said ‘No loosies.’
“They are always pushing responsibility to other people, like their informants,” he went on. “They don’t mix with the community. All it would take to fix this problem is a police presence on the street.”
Just as García was about to close for the night, two young men walked into the store. One of them identified himself as Jay Potasz and said he is 28. The other one declined to give his name. They called the new policy an infringement of their rights and of the rights of the store owner.
“This is America,” said Potasz’s anonymous companion. “You are telling me that if I own a business I can’t keep it open as late as I want to make an honest living?”
“If there’s trouble, it’s not because of the store,” said Potasz. “If it happens in the store is the owner’s responsibility, but if if happens in the street, it’s the cops’ problem. Now I need to go all the way to the 7-11 on Route 80 if I need something late at night.”
“There’s no 24-hour store in the neighborhood,” said Potasz’s friend. “I’ve got a 5-year-old daughter. What if there’s an emergency and I need milk or something?”
“You know what these stores are called?” he went on. “Convenience stores! And you know why that is? Because they are supposed to be convenient!”
“Who Shops at 2 AM?”
In an interview the following day, Sgt. Zona defended the early closing policy.
“We already have a heightened police presence on Grand Avenue,” he said. “But when the stores started closing early—problem solved!”
He said that he stations a cop car outside of Pop’s every weekend, when the store stays open until 2 a.m. He also said that the store has a history of being a spot for trouble.
“He [Pop’s’ owner] is not responsible for the crimes that happen outside of his store, but by staying open late he is creating an atmosphere that’s conducive to those crimes,” he said. “We’ve had people who’ve just been robbed come and tell us ‘I was just at Pop’s.’”
Zona went on to say that some of the costumers who shop at convenience stores late at night are more likely to be involved in criminal activity than others.
“Some of the people you were talking to there, who say that it’s convenient—some of them are part of the problem,” he said. “These convenience stores—why do they need to stay open past 11 p.m.? Who goes shopping at 2 a.m.?”
“Think about it this way,” he added. “Would we have as many problems in the downtown bar district if we didn’t bus in students from all over the place every weekend? Probably not.”
Zona also suggested that further policy changes could make early closing a better bargain for store owners.
“Maybe we should limit the number of convenience stores on Grand Avenue,” he said. “That way stores wouldn’t have to stay open late to make a profit from the competition.”
Zona wasn’t the only official who spoke out in favor of the new closing hours. Frank Alvarado, who chairs the Grand Avenue Special Services District, said that the street’s merchants favor the policy.
“We are in full support of Sgt. Zona’s efforts to reduce crime in the area, and if that means that convenience stores have to close earlier, so be it,” he said.
“The late opening of convenience stores does nothing for the community,” Alvarado continued. “Nobody buys milk that late at night. People frequent them during the day, but at night they become a source of problems. “
“Let’s be frank,” he said. “The fact is that police resources are limited as it is. They do the best they can. I don’t expect a police officer posted at every convenience store. If they need a pack of cigarettes, they can get it before midnight.”
6 Nights a Week
When midnight came and it was time to close the store, Carlos García shrugged his shoulders. He said that he works at Pop’s six nights a week and that he always closes, but that he hadn’t seen much problems.
“Sometimes people get drunk and you hear them fight,” he said, “but that happens everywhere and not just here.”
Then again, he reflected, his back is usually facing the street as he mans the counter.
Lucas Iberico-Lozada contributed reporting
Tags: Pop's, Frank Alvarado, convenience stores, Tony Zona
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Out of six or seven convenience stores, they all should make an agreement that ONE store would stay open all night, and then hire security guards for the store. The open all night store would ROTATE between all of the stores in the agreement. One store would have Monday, one store Tuesday, and so on. Like all night drug stores. The police could also concentrate at the open store, too. Problem solved. How come no one else has thought of this?
I have a problem with this.This man pays taxes.Who are the police ask small businesses in the area to close earlier as part of an effort to reduce crime.How abot the crime down town when the clubs let out.Know one tells them to close down.
this is a pretty regressive policy, hurting business owners and customers in an area that doesn’t need help making life difficult.
there are laws against loitering, robbery and soliciting, along with noise ordinances. how about the police enforce those laws around the store, and let the business owners decide what hours best serve their customers.
closing early may be just one solution, sure. but it’s not entirely fair either.
the fact that Zona has to ask “who goes shopping at 2 a.m.,” or “why do they need to stay open past 11 p.m.?” mostly shows that’s he’s out of touch with that community. on top of that, some people are just night owls, work different shifts, etc., and might need the convenience of a late night shop.
I agree 100% with jhonn_m post. Back when I was young and single these stores were a huge convenience to me. It is ridiculous that Zona would ask “who is shopping at 2AM?”. Maybe cops who work the 4pm-midnight type shift would be? I will go a little bit further than jhonn_m has and say not only is Zona out of touch with the community he also has no idea what running a business is like. Someone who is running a private business cannot lay back and suck off of the taxpayer’s teat like public workers do. I am disgusted seeing that even cops are following Obama’s lead and demonizing business owners.