By Tarvus Hawthorne and Janice Christensen

Neighbors in the Riverwest and Harambee neighborhoods are concerned about the safety and appearances of several gas stations on Holton Street and on North Avenue. Of particular concern are the stations on Holton and Keefe, Holton and Burleigh, Holton and North and 4th and North. “They don’t keep the outside up,” said Alberta Oziadulewicz, who lives on East Wright St. “I’m tired of being asked for money by panhandlers every time I go to the gas station. It makes for an unsafe environment.” Concerns about loud music, loitering, litter, and sale of products that may be used for drug abuse led community organizers in Riverwest and Harambee to call a meeting in January. Residents of the two neighborhoods and the owners of the gas stations, along with 6th District Alderwoman Marlene Johnson-Odom and 3rd District Alderman Mike D’Amato, attended the meeting. Fifth District Capt. Vince Flores; P.O. Bruce Scott, Community Liaison Officer; Tom Chaney, Department of City Development; and George Singleton of the Holton Revitalization Committee of the Riverwest Neighborhood Association (RNA) also attended. News stories about problems at gas stations had been aired in December and January shortly before the meeting, so reporters from Channel 12 and Fox 6 news were also at the meeting. The owners of the gas stations did not attend. This isn’t the first time neighborhood residents have had problems with a gas station on Holton Street. In 2000, neighborhood residents and organizers called a meeting about the gas station on Holton & Burleigh, voicing similar concerns to those being expressed today. Fratney Street resident and RNA co-chair George Singleton explained his views: “I think it’s a problem because of the kids loitering. That presents a safety problem because it turns into a hang-out.” He added, “I would also like to see them clean up the outside and do better in curb appeal for the neighborhood.” In an agreement drafted in December 2000, the owner, Mian Riaz, agreed to not sell certain products, including “love roses,” chore boys, and gem bags. He also agreed to card all persons under 30 who attempted to purchase tobacco products. Since that time, Mr. Riaz has also had the phone booth, formerly located in front of his building, removed. Residents were concerned with the perception of drug-related phone calls being made from that phone booth. However, residents continue to be concerned with the appearance of the facility. They have objected to the fact that the poles that used to protect the phone booth were left in place and have become crooked and dilapidated. They also have voiced concerns with the hand-lettered signs used by the station and the fact that patrons must stand outside the building when paying for their purchases. Michael Hawthorne, a resident of North Palmer Street, comments, “It’s out of control. In my opinion, it’s less than humane to have to stand outside where it is unsafe…. Standing outside makes people more vulnerable to a crime such as robbery.” As this paper goes to press, Tarvus Hawthorne, Community Partner in the Riverwest neighborhood, has scheduled a meeting with Mr. Riaz to discuss the situation. Discontent with the situation continues among residents, and there has been some talk of trying to have the gas stations’ licenses revoked. “We’ve tried to negotiate for years,” says Barbara Vessas of East Burleigh Street, “and nothing has changed. Now it’s time to hit them in their pocketbooks.” While attempts have been made to address the ongoing problems, it is evident residents believe it is far from resolved.

What you can do: Do you have information or concerns about this situation? Here are some numbers you can call:

  • Tarvus Hawthorne, SDC Community Partners, 263-8383 ext. 108
  • Aristea “Artie” Sharp, Crime Prevention Organizer, Harambee Ombudsman Project, Inc., 264-7822
  • Janice Christensen, Community Development Specialist, YMCA Community Development Corp., 263-1380
  • P.O. Bruce Scott, Crime Prevention Officer, 5th District, 935-7258

Riverwest Currents – Volume 1 – Issue 2 – September 2002