Come Oct. 7, the doors of the Eastside’s Handy Stop gas station and convenience store on 627 N. New Braunfels Ave. will close in an attempt to put an end to the crime that has plagued the business and the surrounding area for years. Store owner Inderjits Multani decided to voluntarily cease the store’s operations in October after a number of initiatives to improve safety bore no fruit.
Deputy City Attorney Joe Niño, who assured more than 100 community members at a Dignowity Hill Neighborhood Association meeting Monday evening that the Handy Stop was indeed closing, couldn’t say for how long or give an idea of the future plans for the site.
Several community members said they are glad to see the business go. They agreed that the Handy Stop only exacerbates the violence and crime in the area since drug-related paraphernalia can be bought at the counter. Items like rolling papers or pipes can legally be sold in gas stations and other shops in the city since they’re considered novelty items, Niño told the group gathered at the Ella Austin Community Center.
“We don’t care about all of those things, we’ve taken them out (of the store),” said property owner Andrew Rajpari in response to one neighbor who said she heard crack pipes were still being sold behind the counter.
Store owner Multani and property owner Rajpari both attended the meeting. In August, the two were threatened with a law suit by the City of San Antonio under Chapter 125 of the state’s Civil Practice and Remedies Code after the San Antonio Police Department (SAPD) reported receiving more than “600 calls … for offenses, including but not limited to, narcotics, prostitution, aggravated assaults, knifings, and shootings” at the site since January 2012, according to a Nuisance Abatement Compliance Agreement signed by the owners and the City.
The agreement also details the store’s various building and health code violations, which were noted by SAPD’s Dangerous Assessment Response Team (DART). Click here to view the document.
Since then, Rajpari told the group, he and Multani have worked to address those violations and enhance the building to make it safer. They’ve installed fences around the property, more outside lighting, and security cameras that SAPD and the San Antonio Housing Authority (SAHA) also have access to via mobile app. They’ve allowed SAHA to install a mural on the side of the building and host various community events at the store in order to foster a sense of community and deter crime.
Based on communication from neighborhood residents and leadership, “the owners have been very responsive and attempting to make things better,” said Councilman Alan Warrick (D2).
One of the biggest changes was cutting the store’s operating hours. Before August, the Handy Stop operated 24 hours a day, but now is closed between midnight and 8 a.m. The $600,000 SAHA Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation grant, which SAHA received last year to combat crime in the Eastside Choice/Wheatley Courts Neighborhood, has funded other efforts including more SAPD foot patrols in the area, which started in June.
SAPD Capt. Troy Torres said that the department was initially going to cease foot patrols this month, but instead is going to extend them through the end of this year. SAPD has had officers dispatched near the so-called New Braunfels Avenue corridor three times a week on average, Torres said.
None of the efforts have seemed to work, more than one community member said Monday. Multani opted to cease store operations in October, choosing not to comply with a stipulation by the City to station several peace officers at the site because of cost reasons, Niño said. Even with Multani gone, Rajpari is determined to keep the gas station afloat.
“We’d like to keep it open and do whatever we can to keep it open,” he said. “I don’t see closing the store being any good for the community.”
There has been talk among neighborhood residents about opening another business in the Handy Stop’s place – something that will benefit the community – but no such plans have been made yet, Niño said.
“Whatever is on that New Braunfels corridor, this community has to support it for it to survive and for it to thrive as a business,” Warrick reminded the group. “So whatever we do moving forward, I’d like to see a business there that all of us can go to without being afraid.”
Many of the attendees showed up for the Monday meeting thinking discussion would be devoted entirely to the Handy Stop and the rest of the Eastside’s New Braunfels corridor, when in fact it was one of many agenda items. Community members will get a chance to voice their concerns and ask questions on that matter only at a public meeting hosted by the District 2 office on Monday, Sept. 26 from 6-7:30 p.m. at Antioch Baptist Church, 1001 N. Walters.
Warrick, Torres, Niño, and the store and property owners will be present at the gathering.
Top image: Deputy City Attorney Joe Niño discusses the legal process regarding the Handy Stop on North New Braunfels. Photo by Scott Ball.