South Ward residents are taking back their turf.
Concerned citizens rallied at Maple and Chancellor Avenues Wednesday and Thursday nights, across the street from a bodega and Chinese restaurant they say are the epicenter of crime in the community. The protests called for the shuttering of Maple Supermarket and New Garden restaurant, and a crackdown on crime along the stretch of Maple Avenue that also houses IGA Center preschool and the Nellie Grier senior citizen center.
"The girl had not been gone for two days and people were loitering," said Maple Avenue resident Ollie Kendrick of Dawn Reddick, the outside New Garden two weeks ago. Next door, at Maple Supermarket, an employee was allegedly arrested last month for intent to sell prescription pills. Patch was unable to confirm reports of the arrest with the Newark Police Department.
The overwhelming show of community involvement proved to be a step in the right direction, according to South Ward Councilman Ras Baraka. As a result of the two protests, two police officers have been tasked with beefing up daily security around the area and rumors of a corner liquor store opening up have been dispelled. Jose M. Rivas, who owns the building that occupies New Garden and Maple Supermarket, met with the public for the first time Thursday since residents organized a boycott of the bodega earlier this month.
"I'm glad the owner came out, that never happened (before)," said Baraka. "He made some concessions."
According to Rivas, two store employees in connection with the drug incident have been fired and that he will consider renewing New Garden's lease when it expires. Rivas maintained he never planned to open a liquor store on the corner of Maple and Chancellor Avenues but that the space may be used for storage and perhaps a beauty supply store.
"We're trying to develop a wholesome community," said Patrick Council, president of the Newark Preschool Council, which operates the IGA Center. "It's hard to develop a wholesome community if businesses won't even get out and work with you and help you cultivate that mindset."
A South Ward resident for 20 years, Rivas seemed compliant with residents' demands, saying he had no hard feelings in wake of the protests.
Still, Kendrick, who moved to Newark in 1998, made it clear residents will serve as watchdogs of Rivas' business practices going forward.
"Believe me when I tell you, we will be watching," she warned.
Baraka, who was at the 107th-straight weekly rally Wednesday on Maple Avenue, urged residents to take more action by calling his office with complaints.
"You don't need an army of people here," Baraka told residents Thursday. "You need a visible officer that's going to do his job. If he's not doing his job, you need to call on him."
Baraka will host a community meeting Aug. 25 at 6 p.m. at Emanuel Baptist Church (228 Chancellor Ave.) regarding the Maple Avenue protests. Citizens can reach his office at 973-733-3794, or make a complaint to 973-803-8235.