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Published: Friday, 7/17/2009

Toledo, retailers herald deal to end licensing

BY FLORENCE DETHY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Standing in front of a Stop-and-Go on Airport Highway, City Council President Joe McNamara announced yesterday a proposed settlement between the city of Toledo and the Midwest Retailers Association, an area business group of which about 375 area convenience stores are members.

He said the agreement is good for both Toledo's businesses and its neighborhoods and that it represents an example of government and free enterprise working together for their common interest.

The agreement, which Mr. McNamara spearheaded, stipulates that in exchange for repealing the city's licensing ordinance, the retailers association would agree to establish and enforce a high standard of conduct among its member stores.

Furthermore, if the ordinance is repealed, the association will forgo any claims against the city for attorney fees or damage awards, a potential savings to the city of $50,000 to $60,000, said Scott Ciolek, the association's attorney.

But the crux of the plan is the association's adoption of five ethical business practices, which include a ban on the sale of items commonly used as drug paraphernalia, a commitment to keep stores well-maintained, and a pledge to sell nutritious items such as fruits and vegetables.

"They are setting the example that we need to show across the city, across the country of how convenience stores can be pro neighborhood," Mr. McNamara said.

To improve the stores' relationship with their neighborhoods, the association says members have agreed to attend Block Watch meetings and to meet each quarter with representatives of community development corporation alliances to discuss issues that arise. "There are specific problems in specific neighborhoods and we want to work with the CDC on the trouble spots," said Dan Ridi, the retailers' association vice president.

The way he sees it, he said, a few poorly managed stores are tainting the reputation of all the rest.

The agreement, which Toledo City Council must approve, also clears the table for the passage of legislation requiring convenience stores be located no closer than 2,000 feet from one another.

While city officials and representatives of the retailers association say they favor the measure, they said it has not gone forward because of the licensing suit.

Now, with the licensing issue nearing resolution, the spacing requirement is "ready to be passed at any moment," Mr. McNamara said.

Still, the proposed pact, while hailed from both sides as a step forward, is short on specifics.

It does not lay out how the retailers association will ensure its members' compliance.

With no rules or requirements set in stone, city officials said they were banking on the association's members sufficiently peer pressuring one another into taking such action as coordinating a security patrol for the stores - consisting of off-duty and laid-off police officers - and encouraging one another to attend Block Watch meetings.

But in the event that the repeal of the licensing ordinance does not achieve its objective, Mr. McNamara said the licensing legislation always could be reintroduced.

The initial ordinance, which was approved in December, 2007, would have required store owners to pay a licensing fee of $250 per year, install security cameras, and hand over surveillance footage to the police on demand, a requirement some shop owners called unlawful search and seizure.

In June, 2008, a federal judge sided with a group of convenience store owners and granted a motion prohibiting temporary enforcement of the law, which would have applied to stores that sell food and beverages and are smaller than 5,000 square feet.

The ordinance was originally put forth as a way to reduce littering, loitering, crime, and underage liquor sales.

Mr. McNamara said he plans to introduce the repeal of the ordinance at a July 28 city council meeting and have the issue come to a vote by the meeting Aug. 4.

Contact Florence Dethy at:

fdethy@theblade.com

or 419-724-6064.



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