Corner store seeks to rebuild reputation

In the years after Samir Abumayyaleh opened Cup Foods on the northeast corner of 38th Street and Chicago Avenue South in Minneapolis, loitering, prostitution and drug dealing characterized the local street scene.

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.”

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    Thankful for Cup Foods

    As a neighbor less than a block from Cup Foods, I count on it frequently for all kinds of necessities. The store carries an extensive array of herbs and spices, and their recent addition of a Middle Eastern specilty-foods section is a great bonus. What other corner store can you go to for freshly-butchered meat, veggies, cell phones, shoes and more? Moreover, the store personell are always friendly and totally helpful.

    All that being said, what really disturbs me about this article (or, more precisely, its subject matter, as well as the aove comment) is that the city is putting the burden on shop owners to stop neighborhood crime. For one thing, why is Samir paying out-of-pocket for the police to do their job in patrolling a particularly active city street corner?? First, the city doesn't provide the necessary support to keep drug exchange off of certain corners, and then they place the blame on local business owners and revoke their licenses. This is some really warped city policy.

    The slogic behind this policy seems to be: since drug dealers hang out on corners in front of stores, let's close the stores and then the drug dealers won't have anything to stand in front of and the drug economy will come to a halt. This is not only some seriously inverted logic, it also presents a totally warped conception of the cause of social problems such as a strong economy in drug exchange. It seems pretty clear that by chasing out local businesses, we decrease the viability of neighborhood economies, increasing the importance of illegal and extra-market exchange in the maintenance of local livelihoods. Neighborhoods are further alienated and the drug market made more prevalent.

    I agree that making a neighborhood stronger involves the participation of the community in understanding the kind of activity taking place on the corner. But if there are no stores, of course, there won't be any neighbors on the corner either - they'll be driving in their cars to some other neighborhood to shop. It takes an investment in the neighborhood to create a strong local economy that brings neighbors together in their daily activities, and that presents at least some alternatives for making a living locally. A busy and diverse local economy does a whole lot more to address crime than does disinvestment and the closing of corner stores - not only does it put more neighbors on the street and enable people to get to know one another, it gives people a community that they care about protecting. Besides, maybe if there was more money in the neighborhood the city would city would actually pay cops to do their job and keep an eye on what's going on.

    Good Buisness in a not so good hood

    I am a frequent customer of the store and all the guys working in there take pride in their store and that show's by the massive improvements they have been undertaking as well as expanding on the items stocked to offer a variety to multiple cultures. A little pricey but that's the cost of convenience. My biggest complaint...No pork bacon! But hey Turkey bacon is healthier for you anyway. I'm glad they are here, not too much riff raff going on really but that's not to say it doesn't exist.


    I am very proud of cup food, I had the honor of having worked in this store

    Out of pocket cost

      I strongly agree with the comments/points make in this passage.It makes me wonder will the city (MPLS.) make home owners take up the responsibility of paying for crime prevention next?!?

    Sam's attempts to improve

    Sam's attempts to improve things are fine and well, but for those of us living in the immediate area surrounding Cup Foods, we have seen nothing but an increase in the ammount of young men in gang colors (and without) loitering on this corner and selling drugs at all times of day. Their reluctance to shoo people off of their corner, eject loitering people from their store, or put in windows to deter the drug dealing going on in plane sight with their tacit aproval is the real impression left on their neighbors who are sick and tired of watching cars circle around our blocks so they can make a drug buy outside of their store. I have lived in this area for 20 years. I used to go to Cup Foods, but no more. They are not a good neighbor- they are a magnet for drug-dealing activity in our neighborhood. Next time you want to do this story- how about doorknocking and see how the neighbors feel about it?