Downtown Businesses Voice Concerns About Crime, Loitering
Are crime and loitering becoming too much of a problem on the Charlottesville downtown mall? Some businesses think so, and they're worried they'll lose business as a result.
This isn't just an issue of homelessness, or loitering, or even an issue of crime. It's an issue of choice. When you introduce the Shops at Stonefield into the mix this fall, considering those issues, will patrons choose a public or private shopping district?
Joan Fenton is frustrated. She said, "You have drug dealing, you have prostitution, and you have domestic abuse right in front of you."
She says the city isn't doing enough to fight crime on the downtown mall, and worries that will drive customers elsewhere, like the long-awaited Shops at Stonefield.
"Every time there's a new mall that opens you have stronger competition, and they will not tolerate crimes taking place on their property," said Fenton. "Barracks Road does not, and the city shouldn't tolerate it downtown either."
Downtown mall business owner Stuart Rifkin said, "I think people want to come downtown, and it's more of an entertainment district than it is a shopping district."
Rifkin has ownership stakes in several mall restaurants. He said, "The vulgarity bothers me when I'm here with my children."
He says his main concerns stem from loitering. "I think it's a bit of a cause for alarm, just the profanity and the lack of decorum," said Rifkin. "But it's America, as long as we're following the law, we get to be where we want to be when we want to be there."
But not everyone is following the law. During the past three years, almost 20 percent of all arrests on the mall were drug related. Almost half of those were for intent to sell or distribute drugs.
Fenton said, "I feel that there are people uncomfortable with coming downtown."
That's why Fenton is hoping the city can find a solution.
"It's not just businesses we're asking them to support, this is the heart and soul of Charlottesville, and we want them to protect it because it's an area that everybody cares about," she said.
The city is moving to address the issues of loitering, starting by removing some benches along the mall back in June. But councilors say that is only a temporary solution to a problem business owners say still persists.
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Ed joined the NBC29 news team in May, 2011. A Charlotte, NC, native, he graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with degrees in journalism and political science.Full Story
Ed joined the NBC29 news team in May, 2011. A Charlotte, NC, native, he graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with degrees in journalism and political science. Email/Follow on Twitter/ Full Story