After much debate among business owners, city council and community members, a bill that would crack down on “stop-n-go” shops in Philadelphia was amended Monday amid concerns over a clause that would remove physical barriers, such as glass windows, between customers and employees.
On Nov. 2, Philly Councilwoman Cindy Bass (8th District) introduced a bill that would help get rid of “stop-n-go” shops in the city by making businesses meet certain requirements in order to obtain a food establishment license.
“The stop-n-go business model, which allows beer and liquor to be sold to adults alongside candy and soda for children, with little to no food sales, can no longer exist in Philadelphia," Councilwoman Bass said.
The bill would require large establishments to have tables and seating for at least 30 patrons, allow food to be consumed on the premises and to have publicly accessible bathrooms.
“Undefined language in The Philadelphia Code has in the past allowed unscrupulous business owners to open sham businesses under the guise that they would be restaurant establishments serving food and providing seating for guests,” Councilwoman Bass said.
“In reality, these businesses rarely have food offerings, can rarely fit the 30 seats required to obtain a liquor license, and yet continue to sell beer and liquor-by-the-shot for adults alongside candy and soda for children."
The proposal came a day after Governor Tom Wolf signed legislation meant to crack down on the “stop-n-go” shops which he described as “nuisance bars that can disrupt communities.”
Opponents of the "stop-n-go" shops accuse the businesses of causing problems in low-income neighborhoods, including public drunkenness, litter, public urination and disorderly conduct.
While the proposed bill gained many supporters, one section of it which called for large establishments to remove physical barriers between employees serving food and customers by May 1, 2018, caused controversy. Bass claimed removing the barriers was about respect for the customers.
“This is not about plexiglass,” she said. “This is about what community members want, what community members demand and what community members deserve. We want sit-down restaurants in our neighborhoods that value our business and serve food with dignity and respect.”
Steven Tiang, who owns two stores on Philadelphia’s “Stop-N-Go” list, disagrees however.
“That’s a weak argument because if our customers feel they lose dignity, then they would stop coming to the store,” he said.
Tiang and other business owners argued that the removal of the barriers would put them at risk.
“These people have to understand we spend a lot of time and money in this establishment,” Tiang said.
Tiang told NBC10 he added a safety barrier, which stretches to the ceiling at both of his stores, after one of his businesses was robbed.
“We had somebody jump from the counter all the way over,” he said. “I was so glad that he didn’t have a weapon on him because my wife was there.”
Philadelphia councilman David Oh also spoke out against removing the glass barriers.
“This not only endangers employees and customers, but encourages small businesses to arm themselves against would-be robbers,” Councilman Oh said in a released statement.
The bill was discussed during a hearing Monday at City Hall that both supporters and detractors attended. Ultimately, City Council’s Committee on Public Health and Human Services, which is chaired by Councilwoman Bass, approved an amendment to the bill. Under the amendment, the Department of Licenses and Inspections will have until January 1, 2021, to work to determine and announce regulations on the use or removal of the physical barriers.
Councilman Oh spoke out against the amendment however, which he argued merely changed the language but not the outcome of the original bill.
“It says that the Department of Licenses and Inspections will determine no later than January 1, 2021 whether protective barriers like safety glass should exist in any large restaurant establishment and enforce any regulations stemming from that decision,” Councilman Oh wrote.
“In case there was any doubt about the City’s position, today City officials testified in support of removing these protective barriers. In other words, the City can and almost certainly will require the removal of safety glass as soon as the ordinance goes into effect.”
The amended bill was passed out of committee with a favorable recommendation Monday. The bill will be heard on first reading at Thursday’s City Council meeting.