- Arts & Lifestyle
- Special Sections
- Community Directory
- Ticket Offers
Corner store seeks to rebuild reputation
Today, both Abumayyaleh and the City of Minneapolis are working to deter criminal activity around Cup Foods and improve the area’s reputation.
“A lot of people here have a bad idea about the area in general,” said Abumayyaleh, who opened the superette in 1989. “I want to move on and not keep bringing the past back.”
The City of Minneapolis created the Grocery Store Task Force in January 2006 to deal with corner stores with a history of crime and licensing violations. The program aims to reduce criminal activity through education, police enforcement, regular store inspections and community involvement.
“Many factors are used to identify problem stores, but the most common are high calls for police service, frequent complaints from nearby residents or repeat violations of ordinances …,” said Grant Wilson, manager of the city of Minneapolis’ Licenses and Consumer Services Division.
Stores are referred to the task force by citizens, elected officials, the police department and inspection staff, Wilson said. In 2006, the task force helped close Big Stop and Uncle Bill’s, two convenience stores in north Minneapolis. In the same year, the City Council revoked the grocery, food manufacturing and tobacco licenses held by Wafana’s—4 You Food Market, also located on the north side. The three stores are now closed.
To date, 36 store licenses are on the task force’s referral list and are being reviewed. Cup Foods is one of six stores operating under a conditional license, in which the store must follow special guidelines that prevent the sale of certain items such as drug paraphernalia. Conditional licenses also require storeowners to control litter, regulate operating hours and chase away loiters, Wilson said.
Aside from the task force, business owners must be proactive in dealing with crime. Some stores can create serious crime and public safety issues due to their appearance, said Criminal Prevention Specialist Carla Nielson.
“Shop owners are responsible for calling 911 when there is excessive loitering going on,” Nielson said. “There are lots of ways convenience store owners can be more responsible in how they manage their buildings.”
Installing security mirrors, video cameras and additional exterior lighting are just a few ways to discourage criminal activity, she said. Business owners can also deter trespassers and loiterers by adding fences, posting “no trespassing” signs, landscaping, trimming trees and bushes, and keeping property free of garbage.
The city also requires that no more than 30 percent of glass windows be covered by signage, Wilson said. That way police and concerned community members have a full view of what is happening inside the store.
“Sometimes it’s as easy as removing signs from store windows,” he said. “It’s just more eyes on the street, more eyes on the store.”
Cup Foods isn’t the only local business dealing with loitering, robberies and drug peddling. Super America, located directly across the street from Cup Foods, has “the same exact loitering problems,” Abumayyaleh said.
Super America uses both surveillance cameras and a ShotSpotter gunfire detection system, but that doesn’t always prevent loitering or drug dealing at the intersection of 38th and Chicago.
Shonda Allen, community organizer for the Powderhorn Park Neighborhood Association, observes the intersection periodically. “People pretend to get gas and hang out under the blind spot [of the security camera]. They’re probably selling drugs.”
In situations like that, Abumayyaleh has been instructed to call the police, Allen said. That way there’s a record showing he is concerned and taking action.
Abumayyaleh has worked independently to address crime and improve the safety of Cup Foods, he said. He has hired officers from the Minneapolis Police Department to help him keep an eye on the store on weekends, for example. While he foots the bill himself, Abumayyaleh says the police assistance has helped reduce loitering.
“I’d say it’s been really good. Not many calls to police [lately] and gang activity has gone down big time.”
In addition to a regular police presence, Abumayyaleh has made improvements to the exterior of the building.
“We’ve put a lot of lighting outside, as well as cameras. The city has donated two of them,” he said. There are five cameras altogether.
About four years ago, he commissioned a mural to be painted on the south side of the building. He also participates in the monthly meetings held by the 38th and Chicago Business Association to stay abreast of current issues. The association has provided him with money to hire undercover police and a horseback police patrol during warmer months. But he has found there are other creative ways to prevent crime.
“He has, at times, put opera [music] on…because people outside loitering don’t want to hear it,” Allen said.
The types of food sold inside a store—“pop, cigarettes and chips,” for instance—can also have an impact on who shops there, Wilson said. Stores that sell wholesome foods tend to bring neighbors into the store instead of loiterers.
“If we get the neighbors shopping in the store, that’s the best thing we can do,” Wilson said.
Cup Foods includes a convenience section, a deli and a grocery store. Visitors will find everything from incense, Nike tennis shoes, cell phones and pagers to energy drinks, candy, fish and frozen dinners. A small island near the back of the shop displays a selection of fruits and vegetables.
“We added a new produce line and another eight-door freezer so we can continue…to provide things for the community,” Abumayyaleh said.
Allen said she is impressed by the assortment Cup Foods has to offer. “Usually corner stores don’t have the variety [Abumayyaleh] has,” Allen said. “I mean, he’s trying. I was excited to see he had organic milk. He’s being a smart businessman.”
Allen instructs community members to talk directly to Abumayyaleh if they have a concern or suggestion regarding safety.
“When you’ve got these issues, you’ve got to do it face-to-face,” she said, “He’ll take the feedback. He is absolutely invested in the community.”
©2007 News South