Philly City Council passes bill mandating curfew for some Kensington businesses

City leaders hope that shutting stores down early could reduce crime and drug use in Kensington. Some businesses are skeptical the curfew would work.

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Overhead photo of Kensington

The law would fine Kensington businesses $500 per day for violating the curfew. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

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Kensington native Danny Emery remembers when the commercial corridor under the El train was thriving — as a teenager he would window shop after school. But that was decades ago.

Now Emery is the owner of Philly Ink Tattoo which sits near the corner of Allegheny and Kensington Avenues.

After 30 years in business, he’s tired of losing customers who he says aren’t willing to visit the neighborhood, which has long struggled with an open-air drug market.

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“I’m operating it at probably a 30 to 40 percent loss for the last five years straight because of the activity that goes on here,” he said.

To make a dent in crime and drug use, Philadelphia City Council unanimously voted in favor of the bill on Thursday that restricts operating hours of most stores in Kensington.

The pilot area is East Lehigh Avenue northbound to East Tioga Street along Kensington Avenue but also stretching west to D Street and east to Frankford Avenue — it essentially creates a triangle — and applies to businesses on both sides of the street.

The proposed law won’t affect bars or establishments with liquor licenses, but dozens of bodegas, take out restaurants and smoke shops in Kensington must now shutter between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. each night. Scofflaws face a $500 fine for every day they violate the law. The law sunsets in January 2028.

The bill is now destined for Mayor Cherelle Parker’s desk.

Emery says he’s torn about the new proposed law, he’s already cut his own operating hours because of the “crime and rampant ridiculousness around here,” because after 7 p.m. “there’s not a lot of good things going on around here.”

Each morning, he’s tired stepping over syringes and discarded narcan. While he’s not a fan of big government, he’s willing to give the temporary change a chance.

“There’s no need for these places to be open [at 2 a.m.]. Working class people are not walking around at 2 a.m. looking to buy a soda,” he said. “I don’t like to be told that I can’t be open but you know maybe that’s something that might need to be addressed on a trial basis and see how it works.”

James Whitehead, owner of Royall Marketing said the new proposed law is a bad idea.

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“To me, that’s not fair. Because as a business owner in the free market I should be able to control my hours,” he said. “The businesses don’t have anything to do with the open-air drug market.”

Whitehead said he’s also unsure whether anyone will follow the new law anyway.

“It’s a rough community. They’re not used to listening to authority and following rules,” he said. “The neighborhood has been impoverished for so long to the point where they just don’t care no more and do whatever they want.”

Instead, Whitehead suggested the city should consider incentivizing small businesses to install cameras and share footage to reduce crime. Or perhaps a tax incentive for individuals in drug recovery to be hired at local companies.

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