Camden will try again to impose a curfew on late-night takeouts

Shafiq Amin serves a customer at Crown Fried Chicken, 309 S. Broadway in Camden. A curfew would hurt, said owner Liaqat Ali, who is considering joining a lawsuit to block the proposal.
Shafiq Amin serves a customer at Crown Fried Chicken, 309 S. Broadway in Camden. A curfew would hurt, said owner Liaqat Ali, who is considering joining a lawsuit to block the proposal.
Posted: March 28, 2011

If 3 a.m. egg-roll runs are your thing, Camden take-out restaurants may soon be off your list.

In an effort to curb crime in the city, ranked among the most dangerous in the nation, Camden officials are making their third attempt to impose a curfew on late-night businesses.

This time, "we've done our homework," said Scott McCray, deputy director of code enforcement.

Mayor Dana L. Redd's administration is pushing to amend a business ordinance to force retail outlets - including clothing stores, and restaurants - to close at 11 weeknights and midnight on weekends. The amendment is expected to go to City Council for public comment and a final vote April 12.

As in 1998 and 2006 - when similar measures were adopted, then thrown out by a Superior Court judge - a primary concern is takeouts, which officials say attract an after-hours clientele more interested in buying drugs.

According to statistics, there is a "strong correlation between crime and late-night hours when people might congregate," McCray said. City officials did not elaborate last week on the data or their source.

The change would apply to all 550 retail businesses in the nine-square-mile city, but McCray said some could remain open. Those with liquor licenses, a drive-up window, or parking lots are most likely to be exempted. City officials could not say how many would be affected.

Egg rolls and drugs?

Waving a dollar, Centerville resident Vance Redd walked into Fu Hing, a Chinese takeout on Ferry Avenue, early one recent evening and called for the proprietor.

"Hey, Wendy, give me a water," Redd said, passing his bill through a small opening in the Plexiglas shield that separates customers from the staff.

Redd, 50, a cousin of the mayor's, said he was happy to hear a business curfew might be imposed.

"If you come here at 1:30 or 2 in the morning, it's a bunch of thugs here . . . selling drugs," he said.

The woman working Fu Hing's counter said the establishment closes at midnight. Chinese takeouts in other sections of Camden also claimed to close by 12. But nearby residents said the restaurants usually stayed open until at least 2 a.m.

Residents complain about loitering and mischief outside the businesses in the wee hours, said Wren Ingram, who, as a member of the District Council Collaborative Board, works with law enforcement on quality-of-life issues in the Fairview and Centerville area.

Police say the establishments attract many who buy and sell drugs.

Some dealers "are using these businesses. They have the person buying drugs go in and buy an egg roll so it looks like that's what they're doing there," Ingram said.

John Williamson, president of the city's lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police, said closing late-night takeouts would be "a step in the right direction" to curb crime. Police Chief Scott Thomson was unavailable for comment last week.

About 30 percent of his business is after midnight, said Liaqat Ali, who owns two Crown Fried Chicken restaurants on South Broadway. The location at Martin Luther King Boulevard, which has seating, is open 24 hours. Ali's takeout at 309 S. Broadway is open until 4 a.m.

His customers "might be coming for other reasons . . . but they still buy" food, said Ali, who occasionally calls police when there are loud altercations outside.

"It's really going to hurt us," he said of the possible curfew, adding that he was worried about how it would affect his staff, including six who work overnight.

Ali is considering joining a lawsuit, planned by Camden activist Frank Fulbrook, to block enforcement of the ordinance if Council adopts it.

"A food business is not the one breaking the law. It's the drug dealers and prostitutes," Fulbrook said Friday.

Fulbrook sued the city and won the last two times the business curfew came up.

In 1998, Mayor Milton Milan's administration pushed through a midnight curfew that applied to takeouts with fewer than 15 seats and within 200 feet of a residential neighborhood.

Fulbrook and Fu Hing; Donkey's Steaks, of Haddon Avenue; and Lou's Steak & Pizza, formerly on Mount Ephraim Avenue, argued that the 200-foot provision was "arbitrary and unreasonable."

Judge Francis J. Orlando Jr. agreed in Superior Court in Camden, saying the ordinance would do irreparable harm to business owners. Furthermore, he said, laws against crime already existed. Donkey's Steaks has since changed its hours.

The second attempt at a curfew came after a high school student was killed in 2006 by a gunman who fired into a crowd outside a Crown Fried Chicken on Mount Ephraim Avenue at 3:40 a.m. Ali does not own that takeout.

That legislation, which Council unanimously approved, made it unlawful for any food-service entity to remain open after 1 a.m. on weekdays and 2 a.m. on weekends. Violators faced a fine of $100 to $1,000, plus possible jail or community service.

After Orlando found flaws in the wording of the ordinance, city officials agreed to rescind it, according to a 2006 Inquirer article.

New Jersey municipalities including Collingswood, Jersey City, and Newark have implemented late-night business curfews.

A third try

In Camden this time around, McCray said, the proposal has been written as broadly as possible to avoid targeting a single type of business. The measure would add an "hours of operation" section to Camden rules on licenses and business regulations. Retail businesses - excluding taverns, pharmacies, theaters, and other places where cultural and educational assemblies are conducted - would be limited to operating between 6 a.m. and 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 6 a.m. and midnight Friday and Saturday.

Those that do not qualify for an automatic exemption could appeal to the chief of police, who would consider law enforcement activity near the location and consult with the code enforcement department.

The proposed amendment does not include fines or penalties, but city spokesman Robert Corrales said they were being considered.

If public safety is compromised by allowing businesses to stay open late, said Art Campbell, president and chief executive of the Camden County Chamber of Commerce, he supports a curfew.

"I suspect very few small businesses, aside from some bars, have to be open late," Campbell said.

But Ray Lamboy, president and chief executive of the Latin American Economic Development Association, called loitering a public-safety issue, not a small-business issue.

"Closing a business is not going to alleviate the problem in the long run," he said.

The amendment is antibusiness, Fulbrook said. "Camden should operate 24 hours like any real city."


Contact staff writer Claudia Vargas at 856-779-3917 or cvargas@phillynews.com.

 

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|