There are three corner stores within one block on Eastern Avenue, each selling chips, candy and limited groceries.
Now a fourth has opened just down the street, and city officials doubt there’s enough legal business to sustain them all.
The proliferation caught the attention of the Schenectady City Council, which is now looking into restrictions for corner stores throughout the city. Among the ideas: requiring stores to be at least a certain number of feet apart, so that each block won’t have several stores on it.
City officials were hesitant to accuse any particular business owner of committing illegal activity.
But some of the longtime corner store owners had no such reluctance.
Mohammed Aldhala said he believes some of the other corner stores that have opened near his Eastern Avenue Deli are filling a niche he refused to provide.
His store has been a fixture in the neighborhood for 15 years.
“I don’t sell no loose,” he said, referring to single cigarettes.
He also won’t encourage drug dealers to loiter outside, trying to sell to customers.
“I don’t deal with the people hanging out,” he said.
While some other owners say they can do nothing about loitering criminals, Police Chief Brian Kilcullen said he’s specifically advised owners to stop selling certain products, including flavored smoke wrappers, and to take other steps to discourage drug dealers from loitering. He said they must consider what they’re doing that attracts the drug dealers and users.
“They’re welcoming these individuals. It becomes a one-stop shop. You buy the marijuana out front and then you run inside and buy the flavored wrappers,” Kilcullen said of some corner stores, adding that every owner he spoke with declined to stop selling drug-related products.
Aldhala also won’t help drug users by buying their used sneakers and other items, which some corner stores buy from those desperate for cash, he said.
But the other corner store owners near Aldhala said they, too, are running an honest business.
Owner Salah Aldhala said the council is right to suspect there isn’t enough business to support all the corner stores on Eastern Avenue. But they’re not supplementing their income with illegal activity — they’re just suffering, he said.
“It kills everybody on the block. It’s making everybody lose business,” he said.
At Madeana Market, the new store on the block, owner Mohammed Elniel said he’s succeeding because he offers superior products at better prices.
He said the council shouldn’t restrict the number of stores in any given area.
“It depends on what you offer people,” he said. “None of these [other corner stores] have hot food. We have [a] kitchen, with pizza and all that. Plus we have phones, with activation. No one has it on Eastern.”
He added that he doesn’t like the stores that squeeze into what was once a first-floor apartment.
“This is a real store. This is professional,” he said of his building.
He’s willing to take on any competition, even if a store opened across the street, he said.
“I don’t mind if any corner store is professional,” he said.
All four stores clustered on Eastern Avenue have shelves of products that appear to be selling regularly. But some stores in the city have cans and boxes of food covered in a layer of dust, suggesting that very little is bought there.
Kilcullen said police were looking into those stores.
“There’s no indication right now the stores are directly dealing with drugs,” he said. “But certainly some locations attract individuals who sell drugs. To the extent stores are responsible, we’re looking to deal with that.”
Mayor Gary McCarthy announced a crackdown on nuisance stores this year, saying he would close down businesses if their owners do not change their ways.
“I don’t want litter. I don’t want drug dealing in front of the property,” he said, adding that “you could make the argument that they are” encouraging drug dealing.
Owners could encourage it by being willing to break dealers’ large bills for them or by letting dealers use their bathrooms, as well as by selling certain items that users like to buy.
Kilcullen said owners should be able to push away dealers if they want to.
“Keep the area around the store well-kept. When it’s well-kept, it’s obvious the activity that brings us there is not tolerated,” he said. “I suggest they not participate in any way.”
The council will hold a public hearing April 28 at 7 p.m. at City Hall on a proposed moratorium for new corner stores while the restrictions are designed.