Mayor Pugh’s anti-business remarks receive plenty of deserved pushback

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OK Groceries in Upton. Photo by Eli Pousson/Baltimore Heritage, via Flickr.

While touring parts of West Baltimore earlier this week to meet with residents and look at the progress from her administration’s Violence Reduction Initiative, Mayor Catherine Pugh set her sights on a rather odd nemesis: corner stores.

These exchanges were highlighted by The Sun‘s Luke Broadwater and WBAL’s Jayne Miller.

Per The Sun‘s Ian Duncan, who was along for the walk-through, Pugh went on to say:

“These stores on Pennsylvania Avenue and North Avenue need inspections. Health Department, I’m going to expect you to get in there and inspect those places because some of those places need to be shut down.

“How many mini markets do we need in one area?” she added. “How many carry-outs do we need in one area?”

This is something of a pet peeve for Pugh. In a sit-down with The Sun‘s editorial board, she questioned the pervasiveness of mini marts selling “Fritos and soda” and wondered if they harbored drug dealers. In similar remarks that didn’t garner as much attention, Pugh said during her April 4 press conference that residents had complained to her about “stores that have become nuisances in the communities.”

She thanked Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke for working on legislation to convert corner stores and taverns back to homes.

“It’s like, how many mini marts can you have in one block?” she asked. “How many taverns can you have in one neighborhood?”

Once the above exchanges circulated, many took exception to the idea of the mayor telling a business owner how they should run their store or saying to another that his business looked like “a hell hole.”

There’s a lot to unpack here.

First is the idea of “eyes on the street,” the term coined by urbanist Jane Jacobs that suggests the more people you have out and about in city streets, the better the quality of life will be. Livable, walkable neighborhoods also work as a crime deterrent.

A 2017 study by statisticians with the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of business found in the Ivy League college’s native Philadelphia that “businesses that are open for longer hours, like cafes, tend to have less crime than others.”

While the researchers behind the study told the website Next City that their early findings are “tentative,” one co-author, Shane Jensen, says it could bolster the idea that businesses should be open longer (emphasis mine).

Applied to our situation in Baltimore, these ideas would seem to indicate that Mayor Pugh should be trying to help existing businesses–and people who want to open new ones–rather than slapping them on the nose.

And while it would be practically impossible for me to say that every corner store owner is a good actor here, the opposite thought is just as much of a stretch. When Rev. Grey Maggiano, of Memorial Episcopal Church in Bolton Hill, went on a Twitter tour of corner stores nearby, he found many of the workers to be friendly and the selection to be more than junk food.

“If we need to go after ‘problem businesses’ fine,” he concluded. “But go after the problems.”

There was another angle to the criticism of Pugh’s remarks, captured by these two tweets–including one, it’s worth noting, from a former City Councilman and current adviser to Larry Hogan, Keiffer Mitchell.

Could you imagine either of those scenarios? Didn’t think so.

The problems of Federal Hill and Highlandtown do not rise to the level of those in Sandtown-Winchester, but the reasons and long history behind that won’t change by closing a few corner stores.

Brandon Weigel

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