Shooting returns attention to Vernon Park-loitering nuisance

 Germantown Deli has been singled out as a source of loitering in Vernon Park, but the owner says it's unfair to blame her business. (Brian Hickey/WHYY)

Germantown Deli has been singled out as a source of loitering in Vernon Park, but the owner says it's unfair to blame her business. (Brian Hickey/WHYY)

A recent shooting has spurred the Friends of Vernon Park to form a committee that may seek to close down a deli that’s caused members headaches for years.

Germantown Deli sits along Germantown Avenue directly next to Vernon Park and offers take-out beer throughout the week. Customers often post themselves right outside or near the entrance of the park.

On Thursday night, just steps from the deli’s doors and one of the park’s entrances, a woman was shot in the face after a verbal confrontation with two unknown men and an unknown woman earlier in the day, according to police.

The non-fatal, but violent, episode upset the group, which has worked tirelessly to transform Vernon Park into a more hospitable, family-oriented stop along the Avenue, the neighborhood’s main commercial corridor.

It also seemed to represent a last straw of sorts with regards to the deli.

Targeting take-out beer biz

While police have made no direct connection to the shooting, members say the activities tied to the business don’t promote the kind of peaceful behavior they want to blanket the park and the surrounding streets.

Loitering is chief among them.

“We want to set an example that you can’t disregard the comfort of others,” said longtime resident and Friends member Frederick Lewis.

At a Monday night meeting, members acknowledged how difficult it may be to tackle the nuisance business, but appeared ready to, at the very least, try.

A long-time effort

In the 1990s, members of the Friends tried to shutter the same location, but failed. More than one member said the effort crumbled due to a lack of political support.

They said they feel a bit better about this effort now that there’s a new crop of local lawmakers.

“Now, we’ve got politicians that are interested in the neighborhood,” said Lewis.

The Friends’ committee would be part of a larger effort to clean up the 5700 block of Germantown Ave.

The deli responds

The business, also known as Lee’s Steaks and Deli, opens at 10 a.m. On Tuesday, it opened about 15 minutes later, causing a steady stream of eager customers to complain aloud.

When the security gates rose, two “No Loitering” signs were visible in the front windows along with neon signs advertising Hurricane Malt Liquor, Budweiser and Bud Light.

The line formed near no fewer than three No Loitering signs. The queue was four-people deep within seconds of opening.

Behind the bulletproof glass, Lisa Ky identified herself as the manager. She then explained that people started calling for her liquor license when she purchased the establishment roughly a decade ago.

Talking to NewsWorks near a monitor with images from several security-camera feeds, Ky took offense to being directly linked with incidents like last week’s shooting.

She described an environment where Vernon Park loiterers have a half dozen other locations within walking distance where they can purchase alcoholic beverages.

“Some people are already drunk when I open in the morning. They come from wherever they were and sit in the park,” she said. “You can’t blame me for that. The park is public, a public park. It’s not my fault.”

Blight’s bigger picture

For months, Eighth District City Councilwoman Cindy Bass has been working on anti-loitering legislation that would make the illegal activity a code enforcement issue rather than a criminal offense.

Ultimately, the measure aims to have businesses take some responsibility for what happens on the sidewalks in front of their entrance.

“We’re trying to find ways to make that happen,” said Bass, whose office is working closely with the city’s Law Department on the effort.

In the meantime, Bass has also pledged to use capitol dollars to help revamp Vernon Park starting as soon as next year.

In her eyes, the park is a critical part of revitalizing Germantown Avenue, a goal she’s championed since being elected.

Events like Thursday’s shooting, she said, are distressing.

“You go into the mode of ‘how do we fix this?'” she said of reactions to the shooting. “We are undeterred from some foolishness that happens on the Avenue.”

Additional reporting by Brian Hickey.

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