Residents demand cleanup of corner stores


Owners of several convenience stores in North Minneapolis are redefining “convenience” by attracting criminal activity with their merchandise. Northside ACORN (Northside Neighbors United!) has launched an “Action against Corner Stores Campaign” to let convenience store owners know that residents in the community care about their neighborhoods and will no longer live in fear while they terrorize the community.

ACORN is demanding that all stores stop the sale of drug paraphernalia, keep their stores clean and sanitary, and improve security around the stores by discouraging loitering and installing adequate lighting and cameras.

There are approximately two dozen stores on ACORN’s campaign list. ACORN has approached several stores recently, including Northside Food Market on 36th and Lyndale Ave. N., Gold Star Foods on Bryant and Lowry Ave. N., E & L Food Market at Emerson and Lowry Ave. N., and Uncle Bill’s on Plymouth and Sheridan Ave. N.

“We sent a request letter to the owner of Northside Food Market…demanding them to stop selling drug paraphernalia and to acquire better security because of the shootings,” said Kim Vaye, co-chair of Northside ACORN. “Although he [the owner] agreed to stop selling rolling papers, people living around there found out that they are not holding to the agreement,” she said.

Northside Foods is one of many stores on the Northside selling items such as single cigars or blunts, plastic baggies, rolling papers, glass pipes (sold with the artificial flower inside), and Chore Boy scouring pads (filters). Individually the items are legal, but when purchased together the owners are viewed as supplying tools for the sale and consumption of illegal drugs.

Veteran ACORN member Beverly Stancile lives around the corner from the Northside Food Market in the McKinley neighborhood. “The store breeds a climate that is a magnet for crime,” she said.

“Most people, especially older people, don’t even go to the stores. Cars are lined up; they block traffic, especially in the summertime. There have been three shootings around there, which caused another house to be vacant. There are at least five boarded-up, vacant houses on that block. There is trash four to five blocks away from the store. My neighbors and I hear gunshots in that area all the time,” said Stancile.

Stancile and other ACORN activists petitioned to have the bus stop on that corner removed. “They would say they’re waiting on the bus when the police come around,” she said. The accused have even put others in danger trying to hide drugs when the police approach.

“Jennifer bought flour, and weed was in it,” Stancile said, referring to her neighbor who decided to shop at the nearest corner store since she needed only one item. Upon delivering a demand letter to stop sales, Stancile said the store owner at Northside Foods told her, “I don’t give a s**t about your neighborhood. I’m trying to make money.”

Development is even a problem in the vicinity of the convenience stores. The lot across the street from Northside Foods was not sold to a contractor due to fear that the house would remain empty. “When a contractor is denied the opportunity to buy property to build a house, then we know there is a problem. We need to get rid of the store and let somebody buy that lot!” said Stancile.

“There are three to five abandoned homes on the same block [as these stores],” said Vaye. “Nobody wants to live by them. There’s foot traffic, car traffic — they’re bringing down the community, and they need to be accountable for the kinds of things they’re attracting.”

Gold Star Foods on the corner of Bryant and Lowry Ave. N. told one ACORN member, “If we stop selling [the items], then customers from our store go to other stores to buy.”

“This leads me to believe that they make a lot of money from it,” said Jennifer Baxa, an ACORN member who happens to be Stancile’s neighbor. “People there have nothing to do positive. There have been three shootings in the last three months within a block of the store. There have been years of problems in that store

The community believes that the stores are the common denominator for much of the problems in the neighborhood,” Baxa said.

According to a statement from ACORN, “Throughout the course of the campaign, both of the stores have refused to stop the sale of blunts. During negotiations with the Northside Food Market, the owner said he would not agree to make the changes in his store unless every other store in the neighborhood also did so. The owner of Gold Star Foods refused, saying the store would go out of business if they stopped selling the paraphernalia.”

Sikander Dar is the president of Totem Foods, Inc., a company that owns at least three problem corner stores in North Minneapolis, including Northside Food Market, Gold Star Foods, and E & L Food Market at Emerson and Lowry Ave. N. Residents say this chain of corner stores encourages crime, drugs, trash, and other quality-of-life problems for the neighborhood. These businesses are individually owned and managed, but the buildings are all owned by Totem Foods, Inc.

On March 4, ACORN members took their Action against Corner Stores Campaign to Dar’s home in Eden Prairie. The group asked Dar to meet and discuss the needed changes to his properties. When he refused, the members dispersed and began visiting the homes of Dar’s neighbors, handing them a flyer with pictures of the stores and a request for them to call Dar about the problem.

Residents had mixed emotions about such a demonstration in this affluent area. “We let [the neighbors] know that you wouldn’t tolerate [these stores] here, so we won’t tolerate them in our neighborhood either,” said Brandon Nessen, head organizer for Minnesota ACORN.

“Some people were unhappy that we were in their neighborhood, but several of them were upset about Mr. Dar owning the stores and knowing this kind of person lives in their neighborhood. One woman said her kid goes to school with his kids, that this is ridiculous and that she will talk to him,” said Nessen.

After half an hour of visiting Dar’s neighbors and loudly chanting, “Totem Foods, You’re No Good! Get Out of Our Neighborhood!” Dar drove out of his garage and engaged the group from within his car. He reportedly told the group that he was not responsible for the problems associated with his properties and said the owner of the business itself is responsible for what is sold and what happens at the store.

ACORN members countered that property owners are responsible for problems their tenants create.

Next week: Minneapolis officials have recognized that a problem exists and formed a special task force to address it.