Number of police calls in the past 26 months for 10 targeted corner stores
Zaid Discount, 808 Albany St., 1026
Chubby’s, 1032 Crane St., 775
Hulett St. Market/IBB Palace, 780 State St., 633
Zaid Food Market, 807 Albany St., 288
Best Market, 1100 Albany St., 230
IBB Grocery, 502 Schenectady St., 131
Get and Go, 1848 Watt St., 117
NABS, 1699 Van Vranken Ave., 107
Fabio’s Grocery, 859 Albany St., 79
Lucky Market, 752 Albany St., 71
Source: Schenectady Police Department
“Candy.” Needles. Loosies.
Customers expected to find all three this week at Zaid Discount, one of the 10 corner stores the city is targeting for enforcement because of a suspected connection to the drug trade.
Clerk Richie Santini quickly warned off each customer as a reporter observed their requests, saying he did not have those items “right now” (despite a counter full of candy bars). Two of the customers calmly said they would wait until the reporter left.
One later left the store with two loose cigarettes — known as loosies — and the other left with something he could carry concealed in his hand. He walked across the street, handed it to three teenagers, and walked away.
Police have been called to Zaid Discount on Albany Street 1,026 times in the past 26 months, the most of any of the stores on the city’s list.
Police Chief Brian Kilcullen said he met with the owners of each store and advised them to stop selling certain items because it attracted and encouraged drug users. He also urged them not to buy items from customers — such as electronics or sneakers — because addicts could use the store to get quick money for drugs.
But none of the store owners changed their ways after their meetings, he said. Since then, they have been inspected by code enforcement officials and police, state Taxation and Finance officials have begun reviewing each store’s business records and the state Liquor Authority is looking into the situation, Kilcullen said.
Now, two months into the investigation of each store, Kilcullen said he’s becoming more and more concerned about a possible connection between the owners and the drug trade.
“The biggest issue is the activity that seems to surround their business,” he said. “We believe there’s a connection between what’s going on outside and what’s going on inside.”
He said he became more convinced because of the way loiterers reacted when police pulled up at the stores.
“Everyone goes inside, and they’re not discouraged from doing that,” he said.
The store owners have strongly denied the allegations. Santini offered what he considered proof the police were wrong: They came in twice to search the store for drugs and found nothing, he said.
He also noted the police department’s non-emergency phone number is taped to the cash register. He said the reason police were called to Zaid so often is because clerks call them.
“We call police because there was five to 10 [people] out there and they’re blocking the door. It’s not good for business,” he said. “We warn them a couple times, then you have to call the police.”
At the store with the second-highest number of police calls, Chubby’s, the owner said the same thing: He calls the police all the time.
“I need [them to] clean the street,” said owner Mohammed Ali, explaining crowds often gather outside his store. “I can’t do nothing. What you want me to do, take a gun and kill them? We need help. This is [the police’s] job.”
Clerk Sam Aldhaifi added he’s seen loiterers selling drugs outside the door.
“I can’t tell them don’t sell to kids. I see them sell to kids. I can call police, and [the dealers] want to fight me because I call police,” he said. “If I don’t call police, it means I agree with them. If I don’t [call], I get more customers. But I don’t need them.”
The store was doing steady business, with a line nearly out the door Thursday afternoon. But as customers waited, one man walked to the front of the line to offer Aldhaifi a smartphone. Aldhaifi continued ringing people up as he accepted the phone and handed the man about $100 in cash. He did not ask for the man’s identification, which is required in Schenectady when buying used goods.
Who’s to blame?
Kilcullen said many of the targeted store owners do things, perhaps unintentionally, that encourage drug users and their dealers to congregate nearby. He said those owners seemed frustrated by the activity — but unwilling to change their ways.
Aldhaifi said the drug activity is hurting the store’s bottom line “because they are bad people. They bother my customers,” he said. “Some customer, when they see them outside, they rather go to another store. They always bother us.”
Likewise, clerks complained about loiterers at Fabio’s Grocery, which is also on the city’s enforcement list.
“I kick people out of the front of my store on a daily basis,” said Omayra Morel, whose father owns the store — she runs the cash register. “But I have to be in here. I can’t always be out there. And they always come back. It’s a headache.”
She added there was “no possible connection” between Fabio’s and the drug trade, but she acknowledged continuing to sell flavored cigarette rolling papers and other products Kilcullen advised them not to sell because they are used by drug addicts.
“If that’s in high demand, we don’t have a choice,” she said, adding that police should instead try to get the products banned.
Neighbors on the Albany Street block that is home to four of the 10 stores on the city’s list said they would like to see the drug dealers arrested, but they said they don’t think the stores are to blame.
“Fabio’s is a pretty good store. I pay my cellphone there every month,” said neighbor Vaughn Bell. “I actually think the police should crack down on the crackheads and prostitutes, instead of the freakin’ corner stores.”
Another neighbor, Michael White, questioned whether even that was necessary. He said the intermittent violence on the street wasn’t caused by drugs.
“When a problem starts here, honestly it’s usually about women,” he said.