ELYRIA — It’s been eight weeks since city officials armed with a court order closed the Shopway Food Mart, covering nearly every window and door with plywood.
On that day, police ushered workers out of the building and neighbors stood outside their nearby homes watching from afar. Many talked among themselves, wondering where they would go for household staples.
Apparently, the answer is somewhere else.
“I haven’t had one person complain to me that they have nowhere to get their milk,” said Holly Huff, head of the Cascade Furnace Neighborhood Watch. “Not having that place in the neighborhood makes a difference — a good one.”
Since the store was shuttered May 20 amid talk it was a haven for drug activity and a place where people could go to illegally use federal food program cards, police and residents have noticed a difference in the neighborhood.
Local authorities charged two employees, Thaer Mustafa and Hesham Ayyad, with selling spice, a synthetic form of marijuana. Their cases are pending.
“It’s just quieter,” Huff said. “We’re not getting the foot traffic late at night from people coming to and from Shopway, and you know what? There’s less trash, too.”
Elyria police Capt. Chris Costantino said the neighbors are the biggest reason police pushed so hard to close the business. Its operation was bringing down the quality of life in a neighborhood already struggling to overcome big hurdles — vacant homes, abandoned properties, low-income residents and more than its fair share of crime.
But just listening to the anecdotes of residents is not enough to really show a difference, especially since police and city Law Director Scott Serizan will soon have to return to Lorain County Common Pleas Court to prove why a permanent injunction to keep the business closed for good is needed.
“We want to send a message that this type of business will not be tolerated in our city,” Serazin said. “We are committed to cleaning up our neighborhoods and in doing so there is no place for a business that can’t follow the laws.”
A date for the upcoming hearing in Judge James Miraldi’s courtroom has not been set, but the city is already building its case.
Shopway attorney Michael Stepanik already has filed a motion to have Miraldi reconsider his decision. In the document, filed last month, Stepanik said Shopway was not a nuisance even though some violations of the law at the store on Lake Avenue have taken place. In addition, Stepanik said Shopway was situated in a high-crime area.
“Is Shopway a nuisance or in the middle of one?” Stepanik asked in the filing.
Police Officer Dan Sumpter, who operates as the department’s criminal intelligence officer, has been busy compiling data and crime statistics regarding Shopway. In this work, he has determined there is evidence Shopway’s absence is a good thing.
Sumpter looked at the calls for service — when police officers are sent to an area — within the vicinity of Shopway between April 1 and July 9, 2012, as well as April 1 and July 9 of this year. In the months in question, calls for service decreased from 108 in 2012 to 92 in 2013.
Further, in 2013, there were 54 calls for service from April 1 to May 20 when Shopway was open, and 38 calls for service between May 21 and July 9 when the store was closed.
“Obviously, it shows the calls for service have decreased. It’s 16 calls, but that’s 16 fewer times police have been in that neighborhood,” Costantino said.
Huff, who is well known for her advocacy of the neighborhood and rallying residents to take more pride in their homes, said she knows there are still problems to be found. Not every incident in the neighborhood can be traced to Shopway.
“I’m not saying it’s perfect, but it’s much better,” she said.
Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or email@example.com.