Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Two Steps Forward, One Back

Matuli Faustin, who operates the small EuroStar Market at Queen & Fayette Streets, has recently applied for a Special Use Permit (SUP) to offer carry out food. But not at the EuroStar.

Instead, Mr. Faustin wants to start serving carry out at the larger Queen Payne Market, just a block away at 235 N. Payne Street. He bought the second market earlier this summer and received a restricted ABC license for the new site on August 9. (EuroStar does not sell wine and beer.) Mr. Faustin proposes offering carry out at the Queen Payne Market from 8 AM until 10 PM seven days a week and anticipates 70 or 80 customers per day.

Mr. Faustin is an enterprising man who takes pride in his business and keeps EuroStar tidy, although it's been reported at ICCA meetings that he's had some issues controlling petty thievery by kids who stop by his store after school.

But (gulp) ... the Growler thinks reopening the carry out issue is a bad idea and brings up memories many around here would like to forget.

In the late 1980s, landowner and Chec-Soda owner Charles Curtis leased space in his building for a corner market and carryout. Various small businessmen ran the market until 1993, when Mr. Curtis decided to operate it himelf, with Dorothy Eller as manager.

The Uptown Deli (as it was then called) was a magnet for the rough trade. There were shootings, stabbings, robberies, fights, drunkenness, public urination, litter and loitering. In fact, the market was one of the main reasons the Growler was cautious about crossing Cameron Street into Parker-Gray — even in daylight — until the early 1990s. When the Growler bought a house after renting for years in the 100 block of N. Payne, a friend on the police force warned that Queen and Payne was the city's worst crime spot. Not Queen and Fayette, as one might now imagine.

When Mr. Curtis assumed direct control of the market again in 1993 and sought an SUP for carry out, both blacks and whites in the neighborhood decided they'd had enough. With police backing, they united to persuade Planning Commission to squash the application and the rejection was upheld by City Council.

After this thundering defeat, Mr. Curtis had to be content to sell groceries and offer wine and beer (with new and stringent restrictions), but he could not offer take out food.

All is not lost for Mr. Faustin if the new SUP application is rejected. Since the property is zoned CRMU/M he doesn't need an SUP to sell groceries. And while the Growler isn't thrilled about liquor sales so close to the den, it's only fair to let him have an ABC license since his predecessor had one. In fact, the Growler even wrote to the ABC in support of his license application, and was pleased that he quickly accepted the same restrictions as before.

But homeowners don't need the litter, much of which is bound to be beyond Mr. Faustin's control since it is often dropped blocks away from the market.

And the City certainly doesn't need to start encouraging loitering again. It's the start of the slippery slope in this neighborhood. If Mr. Faustin has problems now with children at EuroStar, he and his staff will probably be unlikely to control any unruly grown patrons.

It might be more productive for Mr. Faustin to focus on how he can best stock and operate his two stores to serve the new generation of Parker-Gray residents. This neighborhood could be a gold mine for the right entrepreneur and it would be nice if Mr. Faustin could reap the benefit of the positive changes here.

The SUP application is scheduled for a Planning Commission hearing on Tuesday, October 3, 2006. Contact Valerie Peterson of P&Z (valerie.peterson@alexandriava.gov) for further information.