by Jay A. McCalla

Folks, my last column was about Councilperson Cindy Bass’s bill to create new standards for the infamous network of Stop & Go “restaurants” that only operate in poor black neighborhoods. I’ve learned more since then.

The day of the public hearing on the bill, I was sadly struck by the image of hundreds of Asians and blacks marching into City Hall to angrily face off over this matter.

The sight of marginalized people bickering amongst themselves, with blacks leading the charge, created in me a spiritual dissonance. I knew of the long-term, negative views held by blacks towards Asians who trade in their neighborhoods.

I’ve seen children mock the English proficiency of Asian shopkeepers and demand their change be recounted because they “fear” being cheated.

I’ve seen black residents of Germantown refuse to permit a dry cleaner to open when they learned the proprietor was Asian.

And so, when Bass introduced her bill on Stop & Go’s, I assessed it as more of the same nonsense.

Many Blacks have vocally complained about the crowds these stores attract. They claim loitering, panhandling and drug dealing are centered at these locations. Years of tension.

While I still have no objection to their use of thick Plexiglas for safety purposes, I’ve discovered something quite dark and cynical in the marketing plan of the Asian American Licensed Beverage Association, which “godfathers” these businesses.

Technically, these corner stores qualify as restaurants. Therefore, they can legally sell liquor by the glass — and they do. Add their existing beer sales and every Stop and Go is literally a bar — a bar that admits children.

Plenty of places sell six-packs of beer, but over the counter “liquor in a glass” in a corner store is outrageous. Self-medication is rampant in poor Black neighborhoods. The focused marketing of cheap, “easy” liquor to a vulnerable community is simply a contemptible grasp for cash.

Be assured that the “casual drinker” will not saunter into a Stop & Go, exchange a few pleasantries, and head home.

Over the counter “liquor in a glass” is designed to attract, exploit and sustain the active alcoholic. Apart from our many drug corners, I cannot imagine a more disgraceful, unholy and socially damaging way to make money.

And yet, for all the outrage that accompanied the Bass bill, none of it focused on this. The bill dealt with restroom access, seating capacity and Plexiglas.

Ironically, the Bass bill will have the effect of making Stop & Go’s better and more profitable. The more they conform to being actual restaurants, the more legitimate their liquor sales become. Bass did not think this through.

I stand by my belief that Bass was largely pressing a “cultural grievance” and without much effect.

While her bill passed, the controversial Plexiglas will remain until Licenses and Inspections renders an opinion in 2021. Based on that sly dodge, I’m wagering Plexiglas is here to stay.

The business model of Stop and Go’s is profoundly troubling. One great businessman said, “find a need, then fill it.” Amoral people say, “find a weakness, then exploit it.” Either is a reliable path to profit. Both are a test of character.

Stop & Go’s, while they maintain a fig-leaf level of other products, make their money from liquor and beer – like any bar. Throw in their extensive line of drug paraphernalia (crack pipes, empty vials that are used to package and distribute illegal drugs, rolling papers) and the profits fatten further. Oh, and there’s a suspicious amount of sleep-inducing cold medication, which is also popular amongst those who self-medicate.

What kind of evil arithmetic dictated these dark businesses be ensconced in the poorest, most vulnerable neighborhoods of Philadelphia. What corrupt soul designed stores that directly serve every facet of a broken community’s addictions?

That’s the problem. The problem isn’t seating capacity, bathroom access or Plexiglas. But that’s all Bass addresses.

For me, the high disgrace is the over-the-counter sales of “liquor in a glass,” which is a Harrisburg issue.

If politicians sincerely want to protect vulnerable neighborhoods from exploitation, they need only pass a law. It is by law that these faux delicatessens sell liquor. It is only by law that they will stop. Too simple, isn’t it?

I’m confident legislators from around the state would be outraged at how our liquor laws have been perverted and support change. This would require our black legislators in Harrisburg to build bridges and deliver a good thing to poor black neighborhoods. I’m no expert on our delegation, but I won’t hold my breath.

This noisy, political dust-up makes more urgent the need for sincere conversation between blacks and Asians in the name of building trust and a stronger city.

We have credible brokers such as the Jewish Community Relations Council, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Human Relations Council. Now is a good time to lend a hand.

Jay A. McCalla is a former deputy managing director and chief of staff for Philadelphia City Council. He does political commentary on WURD900AM and contributes to Philadelphia Magazine. He can be followed and reached on Twitter @jayamccalla1.