This Protest Doesn't Stop - Even For A Beer

Posted: October 03, 2003

IF A TWISTER drops Dorothy and Toto's farmhouse on the northeast corner of 55th and Larchwood, look for the 18th Precinct Town Watch to be under it.

They do not move for twisters. They do not move for blizzards. They do not run from rain, hide from hail or seek shelter from storms.

They say they shall not be moved and they have not been for 336 days according to the wooden sandwich board that they update as a daily ritual. That's how long the neighbors have been in continuous protest of a deli-and-beer-takeout that has been trying to do business on their corner since this time last year.

And since this time last year they have sat, stood and walked around that corner 19 hours a day and seven days a week. Lest anyone doubt their determination, they built a shack on the corner, air conditioned it, put in a television and microwave oven and hunkered down.

"Because we're going to be here until we win," said Town Watch president Greg Spearman. "We ran the drug dealers off the next corner. It took us two years but we didn't stop till they were gone.

"We ain't playing. Does it look like we're playing?"

Well, no. It doesn't.

Looks like they believe they own this West Philadelphia neighborhood of well-kept rowhouses and corner stores. And it looks like they intend to keep it that way.

They kept a close eye on the corner store last year when merchants Mike and Cindy Wei started transforming what had been a grocery store that sold a little beer into what the town watchers calls "a beer store with a few groceries."

"We don't even mind if they sell a little beer," Spearman said. "We don't care that they're Asians. The last owners were Asians. They sold beer. It was fine.

"But the kind of beer takeout they tried to turn this place into ruins neighborhoods. Those are the kind of stores that bring in the drug paraphernalia, the blunt wraps and straight-shooters.

"Your paper did a story about straight shooters. They just take a glass tube and put a rosebud in it. But it's just a crack pipe.

"That's not what responsible merchants do. We have responsible Korean merchants right there [northwest corner of 56th and Larchwood] on the next corner. They don't do that. And they're making money here."

Tough group. The Weis may be almost as tough. The store was closed yesterday and has been for a few months now. But they're waiting the neighbors out.

"They didn't sell anything anyway," said Helen Wright, who has lived on the block with her husband, William, Wright Sr., for 44 years. "The neighbors are with us."

Neighbors driving past the corner wave and honk their horns in solidarity in what has become a local ritual.

The Weis have not answered my calls. If they call the Daily News and ask for me, I'll present their position.

But they have spoken briefly with Westside Weekly editor Tyree Johnson who alerted me to this story.

"Basically, they say they have a right to run their store as they see fit," Johnson said.

That doesn't do it for the neighbors who started bird dogging the place last year when they saw people working behind shuttered windows and doors.

"They did it secretly," Spearman said.

"They transferred the license from [the previous owners] quietly then they moved the grocery aisles out and the beer boxes in."

"If they run a responsible business," Spearman said, "They'll have no problem with us.

"But we didn't run the drug dealers off one corner so they can bring riffraff to this one." *

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