Don Samuels closes Big Stop and Wafana Grocery Stores

Don Samuels, who represents the Fifth Ward on the Minneapolis City Council, was determined to close three convenience stores in north Minneapolis to show his commitment to fighting crime. Those stores were: Big Stop (1800 26th Street N.), Wafana Food Market (2326 Lyndale Avenue N.), and Uncle Bill's Food Market (2428 Plymouth Avenue N.) The story of Uncle Bill's is told elsewhere. Its owner, Ali Hassan Meshjell, tells how Minneapolis city government closed down the other two stores.

The original owner of Big Stop grocery store was a Liberian man named Sam. He advertised it for sale. Among those who inquired about the store was an Iraqi then living in Michigan. He bought Big Stop from Sam for $120,000 plus the cost of inventory (around $30,000). Ali advised his fellow Iraqi native to ask the city's licensing department if there were any problems with the store before agreeing to purchase it. Licensing officials told him to go ahead with the purchase. He bought the store and applied for a grocery-store license. Before reopening it for business, the new owner spent tens of thousands of dollars to renovate the store.

Shortly after the renovation was complete, this owner learned that the city had revoked the old license. Also, it rejected his application for a new grocery-store license. He was forced to shut down, having lost $120,000. Disillusioned with life in Minneapolis, the man went back to Iraq. He has been living in southern Iraq for more than a year.

The case of Wafana Food Market is similar. Originally, there were three persons - Fadi, Nabil, and Wahlid - who had owned the business for about ten years. Shootings and drug dealing took place near their grocery store. They sold the store to a man named Haidir, a Palestinian. Again, the prospective owner went first to the city's licensing department to ask if there were any problems with the store. City officials said there were no problems.

Haidir bought Wafana in December 2005. He put more than $100,000 into building renovation before the store reopened. He also applied for a grocery-store license, which was granted. About two months after the store opened, Council Member Don Samuels walked into the store, accompanied by licensing officials, and told Haidir, the new owner, that there had been 1,400 police calls linked to this address. Therefore, it was a nuisance property and had to be closed. The city's grocery-store license was revoked.

Obviously, the 1,400 police calls - if that number is correct - had been placed when the store was operated by the previous owners. Haidir had nothing to do with that situation. But it did not matter. The store had to be closed. In this case, Haidir simply walked away from the situation. He did not bother to hire an attorney to fight the license revocation. He lost approximately $140,000 on the business in the five months that he owned it.

Besides the double dealing by the city's licensing department in connivance with a City Council member, these two situations illustrate two troubling practices by the city of Minneapolis. First, city officials use statistics related to the number of police calls to suggest that a building is crime-ridden and, by implication, its owner is negligent. In fact, if an owner calls the police to report crime, it shows some level of concern about neighborhood crime. But the city uses such statistics against the building owner as if that owner had let crime get out of control. This policy has a chilling effect on citizen reporting of crime. Afraid to call the police lest the call be used against them, many business owners simply do not report crime. They know the city will not help them. They simply hope the crime will go away.

The second point is that much of the criminal activity takes place outside the building in plain sight of the police. Why do not the police intervene and break up the drug dealing or other criminal activity when they see it. It seems that city officials would rather shift the blame for crime to the owners of nearby buildings than do honest police work. Their extensive propaganda machine allows them to get away with negligent crime fighting by demonizing the owners of small businesses in these poor neighborhoods.


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