by Julie Shaw, Officer:
Philadelphia City Council voted, 14-3, Thursday to approve a bill that merchants fear could jeopardize their safety and livelihood.
PHILADELPHIA — Despite strong opposition from Asian American beer deli owners and their supporters, Philadelphia City Council voted, 14-3, Thursday to approve a bill that most members said would enhance neighborhoods, but that the merchants fear could jeopardize their safety and livelihood.
Mayor Kenney’s office said he would sign the bill.
City Councilwoman Cindy Bass introduced the bill Nov. 2 as part of an effort to rid the city of what she has called illegal stop-and-go outlets. Although much of the bill involves categorizing food establishments by size for city licensing purposes, one paragraph generated huge protests and polarized communities, exposing fissures involving race, class, and perceptions of immigrants.
That paragraph called for banning bullet-resistant windows in large food establishments. Beer deli owners were affected because state law requires them to have at least 30 seats. Many of the owners, who are largely Asian American, decried the bill, saying removing the safety windows would expose them to being robbed, injured, or killed. But Bass called such windows, which separate food servers from customers, “an indignity.”
On Dec. 4, Council’s Committee on Public Health and Human Services amended the bill, removing the mandatory window ban on large establishments, and instead instructing the Department of Licenses and Inspections to issue by Jan. 1, 2021, regulations for “the use or removal of any physical barrier” in places that serve food and alcohol. The amended bill was unanimously approved that day by the committee.
But beer deli owners and their supporters still saw the amended bill as risking their lives.
Just before the full Council vote Thursday, Bass said the bill was a culmination of 25 years of work to eliminate stop-and-go outlets that sell drug paraphernalia, fruit-flavored cigarillos, and candy for children next to alcohol for adults. “Sometimes they sell food. Mostly they don’t,” she said. “They aren’t delis. … They’re the modern-day pusher.”
“We’re going to say goodbye to the breakfast-booze spots,” she said, to some applause.
Hundreds of beer deli owners and their supporters showed up Thursday to protest the bill. During a public-comment period before the vote, Council President Darrell L. Clarke said he was allowing 10 people on each side to speak against, then for, the bill.
When Adam Xu, chairman of the Asian American Licensed Beverage Association, who has been a vocal opponent of the bill, approached a microphone to speak, he was told he could not do so because 10 people already had spoken against the bill.
Mouy Chheng, the first to speak against, said her 19-year-old son was fatally shot by two armed robbers at the family’s South Philly convenience store in 2003 when it did not have a bullet-resistant window.
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