South Side Store’s Fate Still Uncertain
by Ed Griffin-Nolan - Wednesday, November 6th, 2013
Time is of the essence

The architect working on the proposed A&R Market at Midland Avenue and Oxford Street says that the project, which was greeted in the summer by a wave of community opposition, is still going forward.

The Oxford-Midland-Bellevue protests in June sparked a citywide crackdown by Mayor Stephanie Miner’s administration on code violations at so-called “corner stores,” which advocates say prey on poor customers and are magnets for crime. Miner’s highly publicized snap inspections closed stores for a few hours to a few days. South Side residents, including Syracuse United Neighbors organizer Phil Prehn, came to the conclusion that they had won their fight to keep A&R from opening.

City Codes Department director Ken Towsley says that contractor Chris Seals called the Fire Department a month ago to say that the building was no longer safe for his crew to enter and work. Fire department and codes officials inspected the building and on Oct. 30 issued an order requiring the owners to deconstruct and rebuild the rear wall, which sits within yards of Onondaga Creek. Because of its proximity to the creek, “You can’t just knock it down,” says Towsley. “This isn’t a quick fix. In my opinion, that wall won’t last the winter.”

Due to the proximity to the creek, city officials have also contacted the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the Army Corps of Engineers to get their input.

Mercedes Jones, who lives in and runs a day care in a house next to the proposed store at 200 Oxford St., says she hasn’t seen any activity at the site for months.

Yet architect Tom DiTullio, who has been working with Abdalqader and Rasheed Mansour to locate a store in the former Midgely Print shop, says that his clients still hope to open before the winter. He says that work on the project was delayed when Seals stopped work in July and told the owners that he could not finish the job for the agreed-upon price.

Seals could not be reached for comment. A phone number he gave to the Syracuse New Times was disconnected.

Earlier this year, while community residents and activists picketed the site, DiTullio indicated that the family hoped to have their store open in November. A visit to the site last week showed no signs of activity, and neighbors reported that they had not seen workers at the site for many weeks.

The work that Seals was supposed to complete included repair of a retaining wall on the back of the building, facing Onondaga Creek. On Nov. 1, DiTullio was expecting a “repair or demolish” order from the city, which would give the owner 30 days to begin to fix the deteriorating structure or else face having it torn down.

The Mansours have hired another contractor, who will soon start on the repairs, DiTullio says.

“We were hoping to be open in July,” says DiTullio. “We’re four months behind.”

Neighbors picketed the property in June when news of the proposed store became public.

Jones was among the leaders of the opposition. She and others say that the neighbors struggled for years to close and eventually tear down the A Shack Market across the street from the parcel that the Mansours purchased in April for $14,000. The A Shack was a notorious for loitering, drug dealing and food stamp fraud.

Critics including Syracuse United Neighbors, Jubilee Homes president Walt Dixie, and Sharon Owens of the Southwest Community Center complained to city officials that another so-called “corner store” would bring back more of the same in a neighborhood that has seen dramatic improvements of late. The Mansours and DiTullio say their store would provide fresh fruit and vegetables plus halal meats for consumers with no easy access to quality food.

“Time is of the essence,” says Towsley. “They have to come up with some type of game plan to protect the roof.”