4 broken windows, 150 311 calls: What needs to happen before a bar is shut down?

Neighbors Allison Sacks (left), Brayden Varr (center) and Christie Vazquez (right) outside the Station Bar at 16th and McKean streets in South Philadelphia. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Neighbors Allison Sacks (left), Brayden Varr (center) and Christie Vazquez (right) outside the Station Bar at 16th and McKean streets in South Philadelphia. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

There is a threat to our community and enforcement refuses to address it. The menace is the Station Bar and Grill on McKean Street in South Philadelphia. Enforcement is the taxpayer-funded police officers, detectives, inspectors and Liquor Control Board officials who have ignored complaints from the bar’s neighbors for 14 years.

We are Safer McKean, a coalition of 30 families who live near the Station. Some of us are new. Some have been here for 60 years. All of us have seen our safety and health compromised by the way the business operates.

If you live here or know people who do, you’ve heard stories about the bar, which has been owned by the Maglio family for three generations. There are “organized crime ties,” people say. “Big cocaine bar.” Everyone talks about the establishment yet nothing is done. Four times in the last year neighbors who complained publicly about the bar found their windows smashed in incidents police have linked to the bar. No arrests have been made.

After The Philadelphia Inquirer published an article about the attacks earlier this month, we learned the violence isn’t new. One of us, Emily Pryor, lived next door to the bar in 2007. Her car windows got smashed after the city cited the bar for noise violations. That broken window was the only impact Pryor saw come out of six years spent recording code violations and reporting information to enforcement agencies. Fast forward to 2021. It’s happening again.

The Station’s current manager, Lou Maglio, has a documented history of intimidation, retaliation and disregard for laws and regulations. The New Jersey resident has posted racist and hateful sentiments on social media, sometimes in response to people writing negative reviews of his bar.

Maglio told The Inquirer that he had nothing to do with the broken windows.

“I’m a business owner. I work seven days a week,” he told Inquirer reporter Ellie Rushing in an interview. “I’m not a gangster. I’m not a criminal. I don’t run around throwing bricks through people’s windows.”

We have logged 150+ complaints to 311, 100+ calls to 911, 16 COVID violation complaints to the state and 15 official protests to the Liquor Control Board — all in the last 10 months. Neighbors have complained about public drunkenness, lawlessness, drug activities and excessive noise for years. In the last year alone, the city has recorded at least 80 311 complaints and issued 51 food safety violations as well as a recent “stop-work” order after 10 construction safety violations from the city’s Department of Licenses of Inspections. Yet the bar continues to operate, sending smoke and loud music through walls, urine and trash onto the street.

At one point, a neighbor offered to pay for the cost to soundproof the shared wall. The offer went nowhere.

On many occasions, neighbors have tried to mitigate the situation, only to be met with indifference or agitated behavior and verbal threats. Here is one text exchange between the bar manager and Emily Pryor:

Lou: “I received the complaint u and ur roommates made. That was a bad idea on the part of u guys”

Emily: “I’m not sure what u mean by that but since u mentioned complaints the noise level is out of control”

Lou: “It means it’s f—-d up that u or ur roommate had the city come out and take a readin on the volume of the music”

That was before Pryor’s car window was smashed.

‘We refuse to be bullied’

Warnings and fines do not work on Maglio. In 2007, the LCB cited the bar for drug activity. In 2008, the bureau refused to renew the license. In 2009, a judge heard oral arguments regarding an appeal of the refusal to renew. In 2010, there was still no judgment. In January 2010, Pryor communicated with city personnel in Air Management, the DA’s Public Nuisance Task Force and the State Police regarding the bar’s illegal activities.

Over the next few months, conversations went back and forth. Then, communication stopped. Nothing for months. No further information from any agency until Pryor was advised to call Air Management to come out and take noise readings. And just like that, Pryor was back to zero.

In 2017, the LCB reported a case against the bar “somehow got lost in the Philadelphia court system.” How does a case get lost?

Maglio recently applied for a permanent liquor license to expand his bar to an empty lot behind his current location. He does not own the lot and it is zoned residential. State officials said the applications are being approved with no consideration for zoning or permits due to the pandemic. Thirteen coalition members, nearby neighbors, immediately protested the expansion with the state control board. We don’t know why the expansion hasn’t been denied when the applicant has so clearly shown his disregard for the community — and the law.

Many of us in the coalition are privileged to work from home during the pandemic. We are organized and record and report violations to the appropriate city and state agencies in a timely manner yet the impact we’ve had is minimal. Knowing all this, we fear how many other businesses in the city are breaking laws and impairing the quality of life for residents without any consequences.

Mr. Maglio is not the victim here, although he claims he is. He is directly responsible for neighbors calling enforcement agencies. This establishment puts an unnecessary strain on community resources. There are three other bars within one block of our corner. None threaten our neighborhood like the Station. Is the privilege of running a business more important than the safety, peace and welfare of our neighborhood?

The Health Department, LCB, L&I and the Streets Department all require “to see” violations yet none have an emergency number or procedure to follow for violations occurring after hours or on weekends. Why is that? This omission only puts more pressure on police to deploy resources better directed toward more urgent criminal activities. The resulting lack of enforcement opens the door for more opportunities for violence and destruction of property.

While officials have been more than willing to meet with us and hear our pleas, it always feels like little is accomplished. Each time we share our story we hear platitudes about change taking time and the need for patience. After 14 years of complaints, enough is enough.

We refuse to be bullied by a business owner who mistakenly thinks he owns the corner yet sleeps in a different state. From the mouth of Mr. Maglio during one exchange with neighbors: ”I’ve been here for 40 years. You’ll be moving out sooner than you think.”

Mr. Maglio, we’re not going anywhere.

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