PATERSON, NJ – Clarence Chambers’ best friend was shot three times at the Garcia Bar and Liquor Store on 10th Avenue at 3 am this past Father’s Day.
He died a month later.
“I lost my best friend because that liquor store was open late. If the store was closed, he would have just gone home,” said Chambers, who has lived in Paterson for 45 years. “We have to turn the lights down in the city; let’s shut down the city a little earlier.”
Chambers was one of more than 50 concerned residents and business owners who attended Monday night’s special City Council meeting to discuss a proposed law that would require stores and restaurants to close by 11 p.m. on weekdays and midnight on weekends.
The ordinance, which is designed to stop the crime and other problems that happen at businesses that remain open late at night, would not apply to bars or liquor stores. That would require a separate ordinance. Officials said they decided to start with non-liquor establishments because of the legal complications that arise when dealing with the jurisdiction of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board.
The city council was moving along on its proposal to curtail business hours until more than 100 representatives from the city’s business community showed up at its October 1 meeting to express their concerns that their revenues would take a hit from having to close earlier.
Monday night’s community forum was the first public meeting since last week’s shooting during a robbery at a family- run bodega on Broadway left the owner and her son wounded. That incident happened at about 12:40 am on a Wednesday morning, police said.
More than 20 residents and business owners approached the podium with their concerns.
The general consensus of both attendees and council members was that a curfew for businesses by itself was not going to make crime in the city vanish. Many reiterated that the city had “dropped the ball” and that all citizens needed to band together, look at all possible solutions and reach a compromise.
“Some businesses rely on the income, but at what price? Peoples lives are being lost,” said activist David Gilmore, who referenced an off-duty police officer who was gunned down at Broadway Fried Chicken in 2007.
For resident Donald Lynch, it did not make sense for any business to be open into the early hours. He went on to call out non-Patersonians who had businesses in the city. Since Lynch was unable to address the audience himself, Council President Anthony Davis asked how many attendees had businesses in Paterson. A little more than 10 people raised their hands, but more than half were lowered when asked if they were Patersonians.
Residents and business owners alike suggested more effective partnerships between businesses and police, store security guards and other security measures as possible compromises.
Bronx native Robert Berlanga, who moved to Paterson more than 20 years ago, said he thought if businesses wanted to stay open late, they should get security cameras. Berlanga’s 17-year-old granddaughter was shot in the leg two weeks ago while getting a burger at a restaurant on Straight Street.
Some business folks agreed with the proposed ordinance’s hours of operation requirements.
“From 6 a.m. to 10 a.m., if you’re not making a dollar, then you need to close,” said resident Beverly Mack Lee, an associate at Coldwell Bankers on Union Avenue. “You’re not going to become a millionaire from 12 a.m. to 3 a.m.”
Others thought an earlier closing time would be detrimental to their revenues and that businesses upholding the ordinances already in place should be not held accountable for those in violation.
“Businesses bring revenue into the city,” said Mike Jackson, who owns Jacksonville catering on Grand Street. “We just need to enforce the current laws and be mindful of some the businesses that are responsible for bring in that revenue to the city.”
Davis made it clear that the ordinance did not aim to shut down businesses, but to address the negative impacts on the quality of life that seem to go hand in hand with particular places being open beyond midnight.
“A lot of individuals hang out at your spot and there are concerns,” said Davis to U.S. Chicken owner Taha Alsaidi, who stood at the podium. “Your spot is a hotspot and that’s what we want to do, look at hot spots.”
The chicken shack on Straight Street was the site of a brutal machete attack last year.
Alsaidi appeared unfamiliar with any crime around his restaurant and said the incidents “must have happened a long time ago.” He added that he has put security cameras around his store and would love to work with the city in the future.
Councilman William McKoy suggested a correlation between crime and the close proximity between the many chicken shacks and liquor stores in the area.
“Fried chicken alone doesn’t drive you crazy, but if you have a 40 and a box of chicken,” said McKoy, “something about that combination isn’t right.”
While agreeing the goal was not to shut down the businesses, many residents reiterated that a price cannot be put on a life, whether it a child or adult. Some are considering relocating.
“I am afraid for my 5-year-old daughter’s life, said resident Brian Veal. “I don’t want to move, but I will.”
Several times, residents and council members criticized Mayor Jefferey Jones for being absent. Early on, Councilman Rigo Rodriguez described that night’s session as “diminished” due to the absence of both the mayor and the Police Chief William Fraher, who McKoy later on said was told not to come by the mayor.
Councilman Andre Sayegh stressed that the city needed to close down businesses that aren’t following the rules. He added there is no need for barbershops to be open at 3 am.
“It’s because they are cover-ups for drugs,” whispered Lydia Robles, the community liaison for the Hispanic Council On Social Policy Center For Community Development Corp.
Nearby, Berlanga agreed.
In the 4th ward there is a grocery store on 12th Avenue and Rosa Parks Boulevard that is open 24 hours – something Councilwoman Ruby Cotton thought was unnecessary.
“There’s not reason to get milk at 4 am,” said Cotton who counted at least 15 “hotspots” in her ward. “I’m not here to close you down, but you have to try and run your business right.”
Councilman Julio Tavarez appeared to be the main opponent to the proposed ordinance. To him, a customer having their haircut at 2 a.m. was fine – it was the allowing businesses to open in all areas of the city that was unacceptable.
He explained the key was to move stores, restaurants and bars to one location such as the downtown and away from neighborhoods.
Tavarez thought this solution would allow police to centralize, keep residential areas quiet and keep bringing in revenue for the city – not turn Paterson into a “ghost town,” which he predicted would happen if the “city shut down earlier” as Chambers’ suggested earlier.
“If you think that would make Paterson better, you might as well get a gun right now and lock yourself in your house,” said Tavarez.
The City Council will hold another special meeting on the proposed ordinance on Mon., Oct. 29 at 7 p.m. Davis said the mayor, the City Attorney, Chief of Police, Chief of Fire Police and the Public Safety Director would be invited. The Alcoholic Beverage Control Board and its attorney would also be invited to further discuss alcohol licenses and regulations, he said.