Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh recently toured some of the city’s most violent neighborhoods and placed the blame on corner convenience stores and their hours of operation.
Ask anyone what is to blame for Baltimore’s violent crime and murder rate and you will get a plethora of different answers. Strict gun laws, weak gun laws, overly strict policing, hands-off policing, etc.
You usually don’t hear blame placed on the community’s businesses. But that’s what it seems Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh has suggested.
The per capita murder rate in Baltimore last year was the highest it has ever been, and April’s murder count was the worst the city has seen in the last decade.
Baltimore’s poorest neighborhoods also happen to be some of the most violent. Most of these neighborhoods — known as food deserts — don’t even have a grocery store nearby for residents to frequent. People there are forced to rely on the corner convenience stores for the food, beverages, and household supplies they need.
Most of these stores keep extremely generous business hours, and the people in the community take advantage of them. Hungry just before midnight? Just run down to the corner store. An early riser? Don’t worry, you can head into the convenience store at 6 a.m. and get a cup of coffee or carton of milk.
As Pugh was touring a convenience store on Pennsylvania Avenue, however, she asked the cashier an interesting question.
“What time do you-all close?” Pugh asked.
“11:30,” he replied.
“Isn’t that late?” Pugh responded. “That’s a little late. It keeps the crowds around here. Nine o’clock is nice. We need you all to close at 9 o’clock at night.”
At the time, the shop owner refused to commit to Pugh’s requested hours of operation. Shortly after the mayor toured the store, health officials closed it down, citing a “rodent infestation, improper food handling, unsanitary conditions, and repeat violations.”
While Pugh’s suggestion that convenient stores’ late hours is a contributing factor to the city’s crime, local store owners are concerned about what impact a change to store hours would have on their community, as well as their bottom line. They say that such a decision would limit competition and increase the prices of goods. And a looming question remains: what role should the government play in setting the hours of a private business to begin with?
Dhrumil Patel’s family owns a convenience store in Pigtown. He is staunchly against the mayor’s plan to limit store hours as a way to go after the neighborhood’s criminal elements.
“As far as the stores are concerned, their job is to serve people in the community,” Patel told The Baltimore Sun. “They can’t look at whether you’re a drug dealer or a lawyer or a judge or work in a hospital. The job of a convenience store is convenience.”
Still, some in these communities agree that there are more convenience stores open late than are needed — though much of this criticism seems to be based in a sentiment that is largely against convenience stores as a whole, and not necessarily their connection or correlation to the neighborhood’s violent crime rate.
One estimate out of Johns Hopkins University puts the number at 600+ convenience stores inside of Baltimore’s 92 square miles. That comes out to just over six and a half convenience stores per square mile.
There has not yet been an official study done that connects convenience store density to crime rates.
What do you think? Are convenience stores responsible for Baltimore’s violent crime rate? Tell us what you think in the comment section below!