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West Side store owner vows end to problems

The owner of a West Side store has told skeptical neighbors he is prepared to shape up or ship out.

Activities outside West Side Market, 255 Carolina St. at Johnson Park, were the subject of a sometimes heated 75-minute meeting that Ellicott Council Member Brian C. Davis convened Saturday in D'arcy McGee's.

Many of those who attended were members of West Side Village Renaissance Group, a neighborhood organization.

The market, which has been closed since July 22 because its license had expired, is scheduled to reopen Monday. Mary R. Zizzo, supervisor of licenses, reissued the license despite her findings that the store had been a magnet for drugs, fights, gang activity and excessive noise and loitering.

The meeting focused on conditions Zizzo had imposed for the license, including installation of security cameras, hiring of security personnel and the owner's presence at neighborhood meetings.

Ahmed Alhoqobie, the owner, said he had been unaware of drug activity around the store, but acknowledged problems, especially loitering, over which he said he had little control.

"I know it's a problem. It's not good for us, and it's not good for the neighborhood," Alhoqobie said.

Mohamed T. Albanna of the Arab-American Merchants Association, which claims 130 members, pledged the organization would apply pressure on West Side Market, if necessary, to adhere to its obligations.

"We are going to make sure that whatever [Alhoqobie] is committing to you, and whatever the problems are, you call me or the councilman, and it will be taken care of. He will not get to this point any more," Albanna said.

Residents urged a ban on selling single bottles of alcohol before 9 a.m., which some contended contributed to public drunkenness.

Alhoqobie said he thought that might violate the rights of his customers, but Albanna suggested investigating the idea.

"The Herman Badillo school is just a little over 200 feet from the store, and kids go trooping by and are exposed to these characters," said Marilyn Rodgers, the neighborhood group's director. "That's just one of many problems. We have approached the store on many occasions, and nothing ever changes."

Residents expressed concern after Alhoqobie revealed he intended to hire someone reputed to have threatened neighbors critical of the market as a security guard.

Alhoqobie then agreed to hire an off-duty police officer or security guard from a reputable agency.

Anne Gareis, one of the people who claimed to have been threatened, said residents would remain vigilant while hoping for the best.

"I'm skeptical but I'll remain open-minded," Gareis said.

Alhoqobie predicted things would be better. "I'm always hopeful for a fresh start and new beginning. I don't have any problem with these people."

A follow-up meeting will be held in two weeks to see how the reopened store is faring. Davis said he believed the loss of income would be an incentive to remedy past problems.

If not, he said, he stood ready to take action.

"What I'm suggesting to [Alhoqobie] is, we have your word, and we are going to trust that you are giving your word," Davis told those in attendance.

"But understand something: We do have a hammer on the Council, and if we have to use it to have another administrative hearing, that's what we will do."


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