by Dee Dee Risher
I love my Germantown neighborhood. I’ve lived here 30 years. It took me years to get used to it after growing up rural in the South, but now I love living on top of layers of history. I love the trees and green that are still here. I love the diversity of race and class and culture, even when people rub against one another. I love my community garden and its people. I love many of our small mom-and-pop businesses. I love living near four bus lines and Wayne Junction trains.
But some businesses make my neighborhood a scary place, and we all know which ones they are. Among the worst are the small stop-ins which say they sell food but actually exist to cheap shots of alcohol. You know, four $4 shots and, say, a bag of chips. The ones open till past midnight that close and spill an angry, drunk crowd on the street. The ones my kids have to walk by, where teens are lured inside by the possibility of passing for 21. The ones across from the playground my kids have used their whole lives.
Places like the one on the 4800 block of Wayne Avenue, which is about to reopen after three years of being deliciously, wonderfully closed. But we organized. We got 110 neighbors to send individual petitions for a hearing to not transfer the liquor license. In three days.
Might as well have made kites with that paper. The liquor board refused to hold a hearing. Technically, it wasn’t a “new” license. I’m baffled. Why can’t we close these businesses and keep them closed?
We have laws that say you can’t sell liquor within 500 feet of a playground, and this place is 40 feet from a playground. (“Sorry, its grandfathered in.” Really? Even though it has been shut down for three years, we still have to “grandfather it?” Wasn’t the law to prevent opening such places? Why do it again?)
“Well, this is a new owner.” (Good point. This owner currently runs another shot-joint-posing-as-a-deli about eight blocks away in the Wayne Junction area. And our Nicetown neighbors are working like Trojans to close it because its such a negative force in the neighborhood.)
I’m still arguing with the powers that be. “You know, the backyard is a problem. Someone fenced it so its huge and not on the right property line, and now everyone uses it for a bathroom and pass-out space.
Rejoinder: “That may be, but someone would have to take that to court and pay hundreds for a survey. Who will do that?”
Still trying. “You know we already have two of these within two blocks; right?” Silence on that point.
Calls and emails to our City Councilwoman Cindy Bass and Patrick Jones, the zoning guy in her office, go unanswered, and I am left puzzled by democracy in this city. Or even basic decision-making.
How and why would anyone in his/her right mind not shut this business down, using every legal tool available and inventing one if needed? Especially if a bevy of neighbors collaborated to resist it? What is the nature of the silent and unseen power we are up against? Is it organized or it is pure chaos?
I’m more worried about what happens when people take up a cause and find themselves thwarted by their own representatives and agencies. We talk about Philly’s miserable voter turnout. Perhaps it has its roots here here.
This past Monday, Sept. 12, Mayor Kenney and Councilwoman Bass signed “Nuisance Business Legislation.” If that bill can’t stop the third liquor shot place opening by our playground, I think I’ll take the paper it’s printed on and make a kite. At least that flies.
Dee Dee Risher is a writer and long-time resident of Germantown. She is the author of “The Soulmaking Room” (Upper Room Books, 2016). She can be reached at email@example.com