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City deli licenses being held until complaints resolved

National Public Radio File Photo

Buffalo's Common Council is cracking down on bad delis. If owners don't cooperate with residents, they might lose their city licenses.

Food stores have been an issue for years, especially in places like the Masten District where there is no major grocery store. When a package of food license renewals was sent to Councilmembers, around two dozen were held without approval, potentially setting up public hearings for those owners who want to get renewals.

The Masten District's Ulysees Wingo held several public meetings in his district to allow citizens and store owners to talk about problems. He says some owners did not show and those licenses were held back. He acknowledges residents need the stores.

"Who sell the bread, milk, eggs, tea. They sell these products," Wingo says. "But some of these stores, they sell them expired. Some stores, they don't take care of the refrigerators, they have broken equipment. So we know that our residents need these stores. The problem is the store needs to recognize they wouldn't be in business if it wasn't for the residents."

The University District's Rasheed Wyatt agrees that, problems aside, the stores perform key neighborhood services.

"We don't want them to leave, but, certainly when we ask you to come and we give you ample opportunity, you don't attend and you don't send a letter or a representative, that's a little bit disrespectful," says Wyatt. "And it's not just disrespectful to the elected official, but it's disrespectful to the community, because this is a fair process. I think it's more fair than what happened in the past because before, an owner got an approval and the community just had to deal with their issues, whatever their issues were. Who cares? Because they got their license."

Other Councilmembers supported Wingo's push against the stores because they also have had problems. The Lovejoy District's Richard Fontana says one of his food stores essentially allows rock concerts on car stereos in the parking lot.

"The store owner decided that he was going to get cute during meeting and just call me a terrorist and Gestapo. But I told him, all the names you are going to say during the meeting aren't going to stop me from making you get security in this parking lot," Fontana says. "I says we've given you four years to fix it. You have not fixed it. So let's get it fixed. So, to do that, we're going to opine on the licenses that they have security Thursday, Friday Saturday and Sunday."

Fontana says the owner claims the noise is not audible inside the store, but he says, that is why there should be security in the parking lot.

Councilmembers said they like Wingo's preparation of a list based on resident opinions to give the owners a set of operating rules. Among the stores that did not receive their licenses are a number of what are called dollar stores - with national ties, not just a locally-owned corner store.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.