URBANA — New owners plan to open a liquor store at the former location of the Home Run Food Mart, which Urbana police shut down in mid-May after a three-week investigation led to drug paraphernalia charges against the previous owners.
Urbana police say they have no reason to believe the past problems will continue under new management and they have worked with the prospective owners to develop a security plan that they hope will prevent any similar problems at the liquor store at 1509 E. Washington St.
On Monday night, city council members gave preliminary support to the granting of a liquor license to the new store, which would reopen as One Stop Food & Liquor. The owners manage another store under the same name at 701 N. Neil St. in Champaign, where police say there have not been any problems.
Ahmed Saleh is listed on the license application as the manager of AS Central Enterprise, Inc., doing business as One Stop Food & Liquor.
Home Run Food Mart owners Jameel Alsaqri and his brother, Ramzi Alsqari, voluntarily surrendered their liquor license this summer after police shut down the convenience mart in May. They and their employee, Mahammed Mahmoud, all pleaded guilty in September in Champaign County Circuit Court to the misdemeanor offense of possessing drug paraphernalia.
The three were arrested after police discovered that customers of the popular neighborhood food mart could buy a bag containing a glass vial and a piece of copper mesh for $5 that the purchasers could then use to smoke crack cocaine.
In plea agreements, the men were sentenced to 18 months of probation, fined $2,600 each, and ordered to pay court costs stemming from their prosecution. In return, a more serious felony charge alleging the sale of paraphernalia was dismissed.
Alderman Brandon Bowersox, D-Ward 4, said officials should not hold the past owners' criminal activity against the prospective owners of the new store, and Alderman Robert Lewis, D-Ward 3, said it is in the city's best interest to work with the new management.
"It's an opportunity to make things get better, and I think we ought to look at it that way rather than what has happened in the past," Lewis said.
Urbana police Lt. Bob Fitzgerald said compliance with a security plan would be a condition of the liquor license, should city council members formally approve it at their next meeting. That means "no loitering" signs must be posted; additional lighting and fencing placed around the store; and no abandoned vehicles, pallets or garbage are allowed in the back of the building.
"We're trying to lay a foundation for, these are the things that are going to help the police department enforce the laws," said Police Chief Patrick Connolly.
Urbana resident Robin Arbiter said, in a survey of her neighbors, she found that some had their concerns, but the general feeling was of "luke-warm acceptance" of the new business.