At first glance, Howard-Hoyne Foods looks like your typical small convenience store, with signs advertising energy drinks, cigarettes and lottery tickets covering its windows.
But the black metal grates covering every single window and the 25-plus arrests police have made outside the store since January tell a different story.
Neighbors say the shop at 2059 W. Howard St. is a hotspot for gang and drug activity in the area, and and Chicago police report that they responded to more than 70 incidents and made dozens of arrests at the store this year. After Evanston and Chicago residents met with the city of Chicago’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection for a hearing with the owner last week, Howard-Hoyne Foods will be required to hire a part-time security guard and install security cameras, among other measures.
“It is a welcoming location for trouble, just plain and simple trouble,” said Ald. Ann Rainey, who attended the meeting on Aug. 23.
Rainey found out about the meeting from Bernard Garbo, co-founder of Network 2424, a neighborhood watch association in Chicago that includes parts of Howard Street. The store is located on the south side of Howard Street, just over the border from Evanston.
Garbo, who lives about four blocks from the store, says neighbors have seen what appears to be drug dealing in front of the store for years, and several incidents of gang violence have taken place on that corner. He personally has seen people exchanging little packets and cash in front of the business several times, he said.
“Yes, it could be something else, but I’d say there’s a good chance there’s drugs,” Garbo said.
Most notably, one gang member shot and killed another gang member in the parking lot outside the store in April 2009, according to Eric Palmer, a spokesperson for the . But neighbors were concerned long before the murder happened, Garbo says.
In April 2012, Chicago aldermen amended city code, allowing five or more neighbors to petition for a hearing with a storeowner if his or her business had a “deleterious impact” or was a “public nuisance.” Not long thereafter, 49th Ward Ald. Joe Moore filed for a hearing with Howard-Hoyne Foods.
“The point is, they’re failing to be good neighbors, because they’re not dealing with the problem,” Garbo said.
Store manager Hasan Musleh told Patch he believes his business is being unfairly targeted, however.
“It’s a family business, and we’ve been here for 16 years, and all of a sudden this stuff comes up,” he said. “There’s more shootings down the street and there’s more shootings down Sheridan.”
In addition to the requirement that Howard-Hoyne foods hire a part-time security guard and install security cameras, the business will also be required to display “No Trespassing” and “No Loitering” signs, clear windows of paper signs obstructing a clear view and stop selling rolling papers and Chore Boy scouring pads — a common ingredient in homemade crack cocaine pipes.
Of the 19 calls Evanston police responded to outside Howard-Hoyne Foods this year, two resulted in gun-related arrests and four were related to drugs, according to Palmer. And on May 4, Evanston police detectives witnessed shots fired from the front of the store and later recovered two revolvers used by the shooter.
Howard-Hoyne Foods will be required to shoulder the cost of hiring a part-time security guard and installing cameras — something that would also be a burden to the small business, Musleh said.
“Of course it’s going to affect us, but they’re not taking that into consideration,” he said. “They don’t care.”
Musleh said the store was planning to meet all the requirements set by the city of Chicago. A follow-up community meeting is set for Oct. 4, to ensure the store’s compliance. And store representatives will also be required to attend a Howard Street Business Association meeting in September.
Ald. Rainey said she was concerned not just about the crime but about its effect on nearby businesses.
“I know one shopkeeper who literally moved almost in the night after the last shooting,” she said, referring to a fast food restaurant.
“I truly think that the negativity of this store affects us more than the Chicago stores,” she continued. The shopping plaza in which Howard-Hoyne Foods is located is listed for sale online, and Rainey said the store next door goes in and out of business “almost on a weekly basis."
But, she added “the best scenario is that they clean up their act and conform.”