Sergeant Snuffs Tobacco Shop’s 2 A.M. Plan

Sure, there were two shootings outside the convenience store. And yes, the owners have been cited for selling “loosies.” But the Dixwell Plaza Smoker’s Stop should nevertheless be allowed to stay open every night until 2 a.m., a lawyer argued.

Attorney Bernie Pellegrino made that pitch to the Board of Zoning Appeals Tuesday evening. He spoke on behalf of a Dixwell Plaza convenience store looking for permission to stay open until 2 a.m., seven days a week.

It took all Sgt. Donald Harrison (pictured above) had to keep from interrupting when Pellegrino said the store has had no problems with the police. Moments later, Harrison got his chance to speak. He told zoners about the shootings, the fights, the lack of security, and the raids that have found the store in violation of laws on tobacco sales.

In the end, the zoners voted to deny the store’s request, citing Sgt. Harrison’s testimony in particular.

For the past 18 months, Smoker’s Stop has been open 24 hours a day, Pellegrino told zoners. The owners were unaware that they did not have permission to do that, he said. They originally requested zoning permission for a 24-hour operation. They later trimmed it back to staying open until 2 a.m.

The store does a “substantial portion” of its business between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m., Pellegrino said. To have it close at 11 p.m., as zoning regulations require, “would be a substantial hardship for the applicant.”

Pellegrino (pictured) said the store meets the late-night need of people who work “off-hours shifts.” The store has collected a petition of 225 signatures of customers supporting the 2 a.m. bid, he said.

Being open overnight has no detrimental effect on other businesses in the plaza or the nearby church and school, Pellegrino said.

For safety, the store employs security guards from midnight to 3 a.m. to address loitering concerns, Pellegrino said. And after midnight the store’s doors close, he said. Customers can order what they want from a window; the clerk will get it for them.

“There have been no police arrests or activity at our locations,” the lawyer said. Of the two “alleged shootings,” he said, “that may be true but as I said, this is a multi-use site.” There’s no evidence that the incidents were related to the store, he said. “It may have been on the property but it wasn’t at our store.”

The store has been cited for not paying taxes on cigarette sales, he said. And a City Plan Department report mentions that the store sells “smoking paraphernalia.” But that’s a “red herring,” Pellegrino claimed. All convenience stores sell smoking supplies.

Two women spoke in support of the store. They said the family that runs it is very nice and can’t be blamed for trouble that happens outside of the store.

“Am I scared at certain hours?” neighbor Tory Townsend asked rhetorically. “Yes. But that has nothing to do with the store.”

Five people spoke against the application. Members of the Dixwell Plaza Merchant Association said the store stands in the way of their efforts to “upgrade.”

The most persuasive testimony, it later appeared, came from Sgt. Harrison, Dixwell’s top cop.

“It took all my willpower not to say something” when Pellegrino said the store hasn’t had any trouble with cops, Harrison told the board. He said the store has never had any security guards that he’s seen. He said the shootings are definitely related to the store, since it was the only spot open there at the time. He said the store’s “only purpose in life is to sell loosies [single cigarettes], which is illegal.” The store has been raided three times for selling individual cigarettes. He cited “numerous fights in the store.” And the late-night window was only put in a month ago at the insistence of police, Harrison said.

“The officer has made his comments. He’s there more than I am,” Pellegrino said. But the owners told him that the shootings didn’t have anything to do with the store, and that the service window has been there since Day 1, he told the zoning board.

Later during the evening’s voting session, board member Victor Fasano noted that Harrison “seems to think there’s a problem. That would seem to be an important consideration. It convinces me that this should not be permitted.”

Member Ben Trachten agreed. Chair Pat King said she did too. The board voted unanimously to deny the application.

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posted by: THREEFIFTHS on May 9, 2012  9:06am

This store ownner should challenge this in court.I bet if this was happening by stop and shop nothing would be said.

posted by: anonymous on May 9, 2012  9:46am

Good decision but it should be rolled back to 8PM.

posted by: Wildwest on May 9, 2012  10:28am

I agree Threefifths, the city is picking on small business owners instead of just keeping the peace like we pay them to do. This is similar to when Lt Hoffman the ex-East Shore top cop wouldnt let the most popular business in the neighborhood, Macchu Picchu open up sidewalk seating because he said the corner was too dangerous… its like saying everyone should stay inside because this city is out of control, am I wrong???

posted by: HhE on May 9, 2012  12:24pm

Yes MikeM, yes you are.

posted by: Wildwest on May 9, 2012  8:02pm

Maybe you could expand on that Hhe. 7-11 is open all night, should we close that store because it attracts the wrong kind of people? Who are the “right” kind of people a smoke shop should do business with? Taco Bell, close that at 8pm too, its unhealthy to eat tacos after 8pm.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on May 9, 2012  11:08pm

How about the clubs downtown new haven thath have fights on the week end.All store ownners pay taxes.out of the taxes they pay for police services.Like I said,I hope he takes them to court.

posted by: jayfairhaven on May 10, 2012  6:38pm

the loosie law is so dumb and harmful i’m not sure why it’s enforced.

if you want grapes, you pick as many or as little as you want off a bunch and head to the register. if it were law that grapes could only be sold in amounts that most grape eaters couldn’t afford at one time, what good would that do anyone? 

it would be a great opportunity to open a black market, where smaller quantities of grapes would generate a larger profit margin, because of the absence of a legal alternative.

if this store closes earlier than the customers desire, then someone else will come along on the corner to fill the need, and the perceived scourge of loosie smoking won’t be abated, it’ll just become more dangerous for the customers, sellers and neighborhood residents.

the desire to enforce a stupid law has now forced a store owner to close early, forced a diminished level of service to his neighbors, and enriched the black market.

good job everyone, with enough law enforcement and nannyism, we’ll eventually legislate our undesirables to prisons or graves.

posted by: Miss E on May 11, 2012  7:59am

I have to agree with you Jay. I feel that the only reason why the ‘loosie law’ even exists is because the local government has not found a way to tax it and make it profitable to the city. Of all the things going on in and around New Haven, I am sure the police have more to be concerned with than two for a dollar cigarettes

posted by: smokefree on May 12, 2012  11:12pm

The following comments are directed to jayfairhaven and Miss E., two previous posters, and anyone else naïve on why selling “loosies” are harmful and appropriately against the law:

Smoking cigarettes is addictive and will kill nearly 50% of those who use the product as directed. Since most adults are able to comprehend this you will find that after age 25 or so, you won’t find many people who start to smoke due to their awareness of the deadly addiction it leads to.

However, teenagers are still at a very vulnerable age due to their sense of immortality or invincibility when it comes to starting to smoke and/or they feel peer pressure to start.

The tobacco industry is well aware of this fact and in order to sustain their business they must acquire new or ‘replacement smokers’ (to replace those that die or quit) before they reach an adult age. That is why the tobacco industry spends billions of dollars target marketing their product toward youth. The tobacco industry knows that the higher the price a pack of cigarettes is the more difficult it is for youth to buy a pack so they push “loosies” which are more affordable for underage smokers through shops like Smoker’s Stop. Remember, if the tobacco industry does not hook teenagers to smoke at an early enough age they will not be addicted to the product by the time they are adult age.

That is the reason that “loosies” are against the law and why it is so important to not allow them to be sold to underage youth. This law may very well save the youngsters life in the long run and why your mindset needs to be changed.

posted by: jayfairhaven on May 13, 2012  1:07pm

smokefree, everything you said about smoking being harmful is true, and i wouldn’t argue with any of it. i share the same mindset.

when it comes to the loosie law, all of that is irrelevant. here’s why…it’s already against the law for kids under 18 to buy cigarettes in any quantity. it doesn’t matter if they buy them individually or in packs or cartons. is that law not sufficient?

the loosie law is intended to prohibit adults from buying cigarettes in quantities less than 20. it’s arbitrary, ineffective, and the prohibition creates incentives for black markets.

the loosie law is being used as an excuse to keep a business closed when it’s owner and customers both would like it open, while not doing a whit to address the underage smoking problems you are concerned about.

posted by: Miss E on May 14, 2012  8:04am

@Jayfairhaven- All you said is true, but how about the fact that regardless if a store sells them or not, a teenager can stop anyone on the street and ask to buy a cigarette and get one? There are many, many ADULT smokers who got hooked a long time ago that cannot always afford to buy a pack, so the buy ‘loosies’. Is the habit good, absolutely not, but does it exist? You already know the answer. Don’t you be naive enough to think that just because a store wont sell a loose cigarette to a teenager doesn’t mean they wont smoke. I also feel the energy and fund used to stop the sale of loose cigarettes would better be focused at keeping some of the same teenagers off the streets late night and solving some of the crime here in New Haven.