Some Philadelphia small business owners say they're being put in the crosshairs as a bill making its way through city hall aims for the removal of their bulletproof glass as part of a larger effort to crack down on loitering, public urination and potential drug sales.
The bill, put forward by Councilwoman Cindy Bass, focuses on “stop-and-go” convenience stores that act more like bars than the restaurants they are licensed to be, selling beer and shots of liquor over the counter and attracting crowds that end up becoming public nuisances, lawmakers say.
"If the glass comes down, the crime rate will rise and there will be lots of dead bodies," Rich Kim, the owner of Broad Deli, which sells soda, meals and beer by the can, told FOX29. "The most important thing is safety and the public's safety.”
Kim said the glass went up after a shooting and says it saved his mother-in-law from a knife attack.
Pennsylvania state law mandates businesses with restaurant licenses should regularly sell food and have tables and chairs to seat 30 people. But some, according to an investigation by local news station 6ABC, keep their seating locked up or out of reach and the grills shut down, selling little more than alcohol and forcing customers to wander outside.
Consumption of alcohol away from the confines of the store then leads to problems, State Rep. Jordan Harris, a Democrat who represents Philadelphia, told Fox News.
“My corner I have guys standing outside all day long with shots, or beer, or drinking and sitting on steps. And now you are creating a nuisance on the corner,” he said.
Bass told Fox News that in “more than 90 percent of cases they are breaking the law in terms of operating outside the requirement of their license.”
“They are supposed to be operating as sit down establishments,” Bass said, referring to the restaurant licenses they are using that allow them to sell liquor in the first place.
Bass said the bulletproof glass and partitions at some of these businesses is a concern of the city’s health department, as if a customer is choking or having an allergic reaction, the “best practice dictates there should not be any sort of barrier between server, staff and customers.”
"No establishment required to obtain a Large Establishment license…shall erect or maintain a physical barrier that requires the persons serving the food either to open a window or other aperture or to pass the food through a window or other aperture, in order to hand the food to a customer inside the establishment,” the bill states.
Bass added that she has had conversations with safety experts to address concerns owners may have taking down the glass, such as adding security cameras or lighting to deter loitering.
“Thousands of businesses operate in the same neighborhoods with no Plexiglass,” she told Fox News, mentioning stores like Rite-Aid and barber shops. “I’ve never been to a bar with Plexiglass.”
The bill also calls for larger establishments to have bathrooms for customers.
"They have no place to go to the bathroom so they are doing it all over the street," said resident Jane Barnes told 6ABC.
Bass told Philly.com that the bill stemmed from complaints she was getting from constituents about the nuisances being created.
"The very nature of these businesses encourages addiction and fuels nuisance behavior including loitering, the sale of loose cigarettes, public urination and possibly illegal drug sales," she said in an interview with Philly Voice.
But Kim objected to the claims and told FOX29 that calls to police were often met with slow responses.
The chairman of the Asian American Licensed Beverage Association of Philadelphia, which represents 217 ‘beer delis’ in the city, also said most of the businesses “are in not-as-safe neighborhoods,” Philly.com reported.
A bill signed in early November by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf gave the state’s Liquor Control Board more power to crack down and cite businesses that are in violation of the restaurant license requirements.
“What many of these establishments have been doing is they have been skirting the law,” Harris told Fox News.
Hundreds of merchants and activists are expected to protest Monday in front of a Philadelphia City Council hearing on the proposed changes aimed to get the businesses to fall in line with license requirements.
It needs a majority vote from four of the seven-member public health committee to head to a full council vote on Dec. 14.
The website says Philadelphia’s mayor, Jim Kenney, has yet to take a stance on the issue.