Bodega Shooting Highlights City Debate Over Late Night Business Hours
Wednesday, October 10, 2012 • 9:33pm
PATERSON, NJ – After midnight on weekdays, folks looking for something to eat or drink have plenty of options near the corner of Broadway and Madison Avenue. Within a few doors of each other are J-B Liquors, Broadway Fried Chicken and Esperanza Pueblo Grocery, all open long after competitors in neighboring towns have closed.
But it’s a late-night hotspot in more ways than one. Groups of people routinely hang out in the area into the early morning hours. Sometimes, that means trouble.
Five years ago, off-duty city police officer Tyron Franklin was gunned down during a robbery at 1:15 am at the chicken shack. On Wednesday at about 12:50 am, a 60-year-old woman and her 39-year-old son were shot while resisting an armed robbery at the Esperanza bodega. The robbery happened just minutes before the store owners planned to close for the night, police said.
The shooting happened as city officials are grappling with the question of whether they should impose earlier closing hours on Paterson businesses, especially those in residential neighborhoods, in an effort to discourage crime and other quality of life problems.
Spurred by anti-violence activists, the City Council had been considering a draft of an ordinance that would have required businesses to get special permits to stay open later then midnight on weekdays and 1 am on weekends.
But last week, more than 100 business owners and their employees packed the City Council chambers to protest the plan, arguing that it would make it hard for them to earn a living. As a result, the council scheduled a special meeting for Mon., Oct. 15 to hear what folks had to say before they decide what to do about with the ordinance.
Down the block from the bodega, two Patersonians debated the issue less than 12 hours after the shooting.
“It shouldn’t matter what hours you stay open, they just need more security,’’’ said John Sellow, who has his own catering businesses, Chef BBQ. “They need to put cops on the street, walking the beat. That’s take care of things.’’
But Roger Grier disagreed. “There’s no reason why they should be open 24 hours a day,’’ he said. “We need to shut them down. Just try it for 90 days. See what happens.’’
“Paterson’s businesses are struggling,’’ said Sellow. “They need to stay open late. They can’t afford to close.’’
“Passaic’s businesses are surviving,’’ with earlier closing hours, Sellow responded. “Elmwood Park is surviving.’’ Sellow said the city should consider requiring late-night businesses to hire security guards as some form of a compromise.
In April 2011, Paterson laid off 125 police officers and the city ended up with more reported crimes than in any other year since 2003, including more than 80 shootings. This year, the city is on pace for about 100 shootings, officials said.
“I’m afraid for my three children every day,’’ said Sabrina Jackson, who was among the people hanging around Broadway at lunchtime on Wednesday. “We need more police.’’
Jackson criticized Gov. Chris Christie for balking at City Council President Anthony Davis’ suggestion that a state of emergency should be declared to provide Paterson more money for public safety.
“I don’t understand why he doesn’t want to help us out,’’ said Jackson. “I know he has to balance his budget, but what about balancing our community. No funds means more killing. It’s that simple.’’
In June, Paterson was able to rehire 37 of the terminated police officers. But that infusion of officers has been offset by retirements, officials said.
Councilman William McKoy, chairman of the public safety committee, said the police department needs to continue to try new crime-fighting strategies to address “the proliferation of handguns and violence.”
McKoy said he wasn’t sure whether the proposed ordinance limiting businesses’ operating hours would apply to the bodega that was the scene of Wednesday’s shooting because it is located in a commercial district. The original version of the plan said it would apply only to businesses that adjoin homes.
But details like that remain under discussion among city officials.
Councilman Kenneth Morris said he sympathized with city business owners’ desire to earn a living, but he doubted whether closing a few hours earlier late at night would make a big difference, especially considering the overhead involved.
“I don’t know if anyone can demonstrate to me that they’ll suffer a significant loss of revenue,’’ said Morris. “I don’t see the foot traffic being that great at that time of night.’’