M&M Mini Mart, with its distinctive mustard-yellow and black sign, sits at 2128 Angier Ave. in a struggling section of North East Central Durham.
Seven months ago the state revoked its N.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control permit after an undercover law enforcement operation found it and other stores were buying and reselling stolen goods.
In recent years the store has also been the scene of numerous police calls – assaults, illegal drugs, robbery, and fights with weapons, according to an ABC Commission report.
But last week, cold adult beverages once again filled the back cooler – due to a new owner, a temporary permit and new coalition trying to change how and where alcohol is sold in Durham. Alcohol outlet density
For years, the nonprofit Durham TRY (Together for Resilient Youth) and other neighborhood organizations have raised concerns about the relationship between crime and areas dense with alcohol outlets, among other issues.
In a September meeting with ABC Commission representatives, TRY and its partners learned new ways they could “red flag” locations in the permit process. They also learned that while state is supposed to weigh “the number of places already holding ABC permits within the neighborhood,” when considering new permit requests, there are no density standards for the commission to follow.
“So, the commission generally does not deny permits based on outlet density,” Agnes Stevens, spokeswoman for the ABC Commission, said at the time.
After the meeting, TRY and its partners started exploring creating local density standards.
The idea got a boost in May, when Durham City Councilman Steve Schewel questioned whether the city should approve a business license for a Roxboro Road convenience store. The council approved the license, but the debate spurred the city to explore creating a local density policy.
City Attorney Patrick Baker said density is a significant piece of the puzzle. But he is reviewing the whole approval process, which includes the state’s approval of ABC permits and the city’s approval of a business license. He expects to make a presentation to the City Council in late August or September.Alcohol watch teams
Meanwhile, TRY is working on a multipronged aproach to address concerns.
“Alcohol Watch Teams,” which include Partners Against Crime representatives, are pouring information into a database to provide pertinent evidence in state and local consideration of new ABC permits and penalties for violations. The information includes alcohol retailers’ contact and location information, ABC violations over the past three years, and crimes in the area.
Some potential permittees have pulled out of the process because the information has made it too difficult for them, Boone said.
“While that is all happening, we need to make sure that we have buy-in from the stores so that they will do the right thing,” she said.
Enter the “Good Neighbor Store” checklist. Businesses that sell alcohol are asked to sign an agreement promising to train new employees, check IDs, and limit tobacco and alcohol advertising in store windows. It also asks stores to provide healthy food choices, and TRY is working to provide those items free of charge, Boone said.
The exchange provides an opportunity for community members to express concerns about the potential impact a store can have on an area with its practices and products, such as tiny roses in plastic tubes that are used as crack pipes and alcohol products that appeal to youth.
“We want to be that friendly neighbor from a community perspective to say, ‘This is what we are concerned about, and we want you to help us with it,’” Boone said.M&M Mini Mart
The M&M Mini Mart’s ABC permits were cancelled in December after an employee twice purchased products that a “confidential source” identified as stolen, according to ABC documents.
The investigation found Amine and Ahmed LLC was operating the business under a prior ABC licensee. Ahmed Chaidi, a member of the LLC, was charged with multiple felonies. Another member of the LLC, Amine Noukhaly, applied for new ABC permits in February but was turned down in May.
Last month, Boone received a phone call from ABC Commission Administrator Mike Herring asking about a temporary alcohol permit for the M&M Mini Mart under new owner Yassine Ouchchy of Chapel Hill. Herring asked Boone what the applicant could do to assure the community he would do the right thing, Boone said. The conversation was a first for Boone.
“He needs to sign the Good Neighbor contract,” she responded.
Ouchchy, who has three other stores and had taken over the Mini Mart in June, was happy to sign the contract, he said. His employees will check IDs and keep the property clear of loiterers, he said.
“I always try to be in contact with the community,” he said.
In an email, Stevens, the ABC Commission spokeswoman, cited the exchange as an example of how the Commission works cooperatively with the Durham community and with its businesses.
Residents and business owners around M&M and a second convenience store two blocks away, meanwhile, say there is another challenge that may be more complicated than regulating sales.
They have noticed over the years “winos” who linger on property next to the store or across the street, asking customers for money or just scaring them off. Around noon Tuesday a small group had gathered across from the store.
B.T. Green, owner of Green’s Auto Body Shop, said the men haven’t been a problem for him but the community struggles with other issues, such as break-ins by drug users seeking something to sell.
Boone said convenience stores play one role in a larger process to build a healthy community. Stores can contribute to a community improvement process by providing healthy food, differentiating adult products from children’s candy and drinks, and making sure its employees and customers follow the law.
“Until there is a change in the environment that mirrors a healthy community environment, then you are going to have those things that go along with poor health,” Boone said.