*Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article misstated that Ramon Crespo’s last name was Cruz.
At 9 a.m. on Tuesday, nearly two dozen police officers and Licenses and Inspections officials were at Martin’s Deli on Kensington Avenue near Somerset Street. Within a few hours, Martin’s was closed.
That day, Philadelphia’s Department of Licenses and Inspections (L & I) swept the neighborhood with state and Philly police, shutting down more than a dozen businesses between the 2700 and 3500 blocks of Kensington Avenue. Police, according to several community members, told people who were standing on the sidewalks that they needed to move.
Martin’s was cited for three violations for open junction boxes, fire alarms, and exterior area sanitation, according to L & I data. On the same block, New Cambria Restaurant was cited for four, including extension cords, fire suppression certification, pest violation infestation, and a zoning permit violation. Steak N Beer, which was not included in L & I’s online data set, was cited for insufficient seating and also closed. Sunny Market, which was also not included in the online data set, was cited and shut down, too. As of Friday afternoon, all of the businesses were still closed.
According to Karen Guss, the communications director for L & I, the coordinated inspections were a response to complaints from community members to the Nuisance Business Committee about their quality of life. The committee, which is made up of the city’s health department, law department, L & I, police department, and the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, isn’t a formal government entity, she said.
“One of the reasons that the information sharing is important is because the police may be hearing about one property and L & I might be hearing about another property across the street,” Guss said. “By sharing information, we’re able to focus on areas of activity that are creating problems for the surrounding community.”
Thomas Franks, who moved to Allegheny Avenue in 2006 and has lived on Kensington Avenue since 2011, said that while he’s seen people ordered away from sidewalks and subway stations before, he’s never seen the city close so many businesses and remove so many people at the same time.
“They want all this out,” said Franks. “They’re gonna start there and then work their way all the way up [the Avenue].”
Ramon Crespo, who works as a community liaison for Rock Ministries on the 2700 block of Kensington Avenue, thinks that if businesses didn’t let people buy and use drugs in front of their properties, L & I would not have shut them down.
“You don’t see 100 people out there now, do you?” said Crespo. “If the business is allowing it, they’ve got to recognize their punishment is coming.”
Why the city chose the particular timing of the sweep is unclear. Some community members attribute it to new development in the neighborhood. Others said the newly appointed Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw could be the reason for increased activity.
“The reason they’re doing it now is because there’s a new sheriff in town,” said Crespo. “But if she’s starting this way, I like her — look how quiet it is.”
Others aren’t too fond of the City’s approach.
“A lot of the egotistical nonsense of this is not going to go as planned,” Franks said. “I know they want to clean things up, but that takes a community coming together.”
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Editor: Jillian Bauer-Reese / Story Designer: Jillian Bauer-Reese / Translator: Diana Cristancho