The owner of the notorious Handy Stop, a gas station and convenience store known as a hotbed for crime on the Eastside, recently agreed to hire a peace officer to survey the premises. It was the store’s last shot at remaining open.
But after discussion with Deputy City Attorney Joe Niño and property owner Andrew Rajpari on Tuesday, Councilman Alan Warrick (D2) and the District 2 office recommended sticking with the original plan of closing the store on Oct. 7.
Since January 2012, the San Antonio Police Department received more than “600 calls … for offenses, including but not limited to, narcotics, prostitution, aggravated assaults, knifings, and shootings” at the site, according to a Nuisance Abatement Compliance Agreement signed by the owners and the City.
The agreement, which also details the store’s numerous building and health code violations as noted by SAPD’s Dangerous Assessment Response Team (DART), can be viewed here.
The large number of calls to the store at 627 N. New Braunfels Ave. prompted the City of San Antonio to threaten Rajpari and store owner, Inderjits Multani, with a lawsuit.
Multani agreed to voluntarily close the store on Oct. 7 after implementing a number of measures to combat the crime that has been plaguing the store over the past four years. He added more outside lighting, security fences, and security cameras, and removed drug-related paraphernalia, such as rolling papers and pipes, from the store counters.
He ultimately chose not to comply with the City’s last stipulation of hiring one or more peace officers to survey the site because of the expense.
But Monday night, at a community meeting at Antioch Baptist Church’s gymnasium organized by Warrick to discuss improving the Eastside’s so-called New Braunfels Avenue corridor, Rajpari told the group of about 40 people that he and Multani would hire an officer in order to keep the store open.
“If that’s what it takes for you guys to be satisfied then we will do it,” he said.
Rajpari’s response came after nearly one hour of attendees airing their frustrations over the abundant crime and violence that has defined the store in recent years and made it a feared spot for many neighborhood residents.
Dignowity Hill resident Michelle Herrera was among the residents whose frustration was eased when Rajpari agreed to move forward with plans for implementing an onsite peace officer.
“We want somebody who cares about our community. We want to keep our neighborhood clean and crime free and until that happens, until we see that effort that they can give us, we cannot support that in our community,” she said at the start of the meeting.
Warrick, too, expressed his relief Monday that the owners were willing to make one last effort to remain in the community as a neighbor that could give back in a positive way.
“We want to create a framework where businesses can thrive in District 2,” he said, “and where people feel comfortable going into their neighborhood convenient stores.”
Warrick ultimately recommended closing the store due to its long history of drawing crime to the area. Instead of “settling for the status quo” he wants to move forward with new plans for the site that will help deter crime.
Many neighborhood residents believe the Handy Stop – a locally-owned business – deserves a chance to remain open, if its owners continue to work with the community to deter crime from occurring at its doorstep.
At Monday’s meeting, Romualdo Orta – who has been living on the Eastside since the late 1960s – said the community shouldn’t try to force the owners out, even if they didn’t agree to meet all of the City’s stipulations.
“(Multani) is in our neighborhood, he has a business there and we want to throw him out? I visit that place and (others) … those are businesses in my neighborhood and I make it a point for myself to support them,” he said, adding that even if a peace officer is stationed there, the crime is likely “not going to change.”
“I’m not going to (stand) here and let you say nothing will change on the Eastside,” Warrick responded, adding that though crime in the neighborhood has occurred for decades, residents don’t have to accept it.
The District 2 office, he added, has already been working with other business and property owners along New Braunfels Avenue to identify opportunities for positive growth and development to breathe new life into the corridor, which would in turn help reduce crime.
There has been talk about converting the Handy Stop into other types of businesses, ones more “positive” than a gas station that provides alcohol and other unhealthy items to the community. Some residents Monday night suggested adding a place to purchase healthy food. One resident had the idea of turning the building into an internet café or a co-working space where residents could also receive job training.
Eastside neighbors envision the entire New Braunfels corridor to one day be a place that’s not only safe, but also an asset to the community.
“We have some beautiful buildings that, once restored, can (create) another city center here on the Eastside,” Warrick said. “We have tons of opportunity here and we don’t want to act too quickly, we don’t want to just throw any other business in (the area).”
At the meeting, Brian Dillard, president of the Dignowity Hill Neighborhood Association, said that maintaining a broader focus in addressing the crime along New Braunfels Avenue is key. Closing down the Handy Stop could open up the space for other businesses, but it will take more development and planning to improve the entire area.
“I know in Dignowity Hill we’ve had a lot of comprehensive planning sessions among the neighborhood and corridors like New Braunfels (Avenue), Houston (Street), Hackberry (Street)” he said. “We’ve encouraged developers to focus their density there rather than in the middle of historic districts.”
Warrick said there is currently anywhere from $6-9 million set aside in the City’s fiscal year 2017 adopted budget specifically for the New Braunfels Avenue corridor. For the 2017 bond, he anticipates $89 million total for projects on the Eastside, the majority of which are infrastructure projects.
The 2017 Eastside bond committee will meet for the first time on Monday, Oct. 3 to begin planning, Warrick said. There will be four more meeting dates from then until Dec. 5.
Click here to RSVP to any or all of the meetings, which will all take place at the Central Library Auditorium, located at 600 Soledad St.
Top image: A man walks into the Handy Stop on the Eastside. Photo by Iris Dimmick.