2005-06-10 / Community

Merchants Complain About Panhandlers, Parking

By Howard Schwach

A group of merchants listens to Police Officer Lou Brust.
A group of merchants listens to Police Officer Lou Brust. West End merchants met with local police officials last week under the aegis of the Rockaway Chamber of Commerce to discuss issues of concern for the coming summer.

The more than 30 storeowners from the area surrounding Beach 116 Street who met at the Beach Club with the police enunciated the same two problems: parking and panhandlers.

“These guys hang around in front of my restaurant, bothering my staff when they come to work in the morning, hanging out all day and keeping women from coming in because they are scared of them,” said the owner of The Last Stop Café nearby the subway. “They take John Trainor away and the next day he is back.”

Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Joanie Omeste speaks as organization President John Lepore looks on.Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Joanie Omeste speaks as organization President John Lepore looks on. Other storeowners agreed with him that panhandlers keep patrons away from their business.

“Some of them are really aggressive and won’t take no for an answer,” one owner said. “They follow people right into my store.”

Police Officer Lou Brust, one of the Community Affairs Officers for the 100 Precinct, told the storeowners that “everybody is frustrated” with the problem of panhandlers.

Police Officer Lou Brust speaks with merchants about summer problems.Police Officer Lou Brust speaks with merchants about summer problems. “There are no laws against loitering any longer,” he said, “and that makes it more difficult to do anything about panhandlers.”

Brust explained that police can only arrest panhandlers who are operating nearby an ATM Machine.

“We can only summons panhandlers outside of a business,” he added. “And, the judge just lets them go because they have no money.”

While John Trainor, who has been arrested for assault twice over the last two years, seems to be the “poster boy” for those who hang out on Beach 116 Street, police say that most of the problems come from the Park Inn Adult Home and from other residential hotels on the shopping street. On Sunday, only days after the meeting, Trainor was found drunk and sleeping on the sidewalk outside of Pickels and Pies on Beach 116 Street.

“We wake him up and put him in the ambulance,” a police officer said at the meeting, “but the hospital doesn’t want him either.”

And, while the police urged storeowners to call 911 when they have a problem with a panhandler, the Community Affairs Officer added, “A disorderly person cannot be our priority, but we will respond.”

The second problem discussed was the limited parking available around Beach 116 Street and strict enforcement, particularly from the NYPD’s Transportation Bureau.

Several storeowners complained that one of the traffic enforcement officers hangs out nearby parking meters of storeowners, just waiting for them to expire so he can write a ticket.

One owner said that she ran out of her store to put money in the meter in advance of the parking officers and found when she came back that her store had been robbed of several pieces of clothing.

“We’re not asking to park for free,” she said. “We’re just asking for a little consideration.”

The lack of parking is exacerbated by the fact that a number of spaces in the nearby Municipal Parking Lot have been removed because of construction activity.

Brust said that both parking and beach rules will be enforced, as they always have been. He said that the police department could not issue special parking plaques to storeowners that would allow them a grace period at the parking meters.

For his part, he warned storeowners not to load the sidewalks with goods.

“”You can’t obstruct foot traffic,” he said. “You have to leave room for people to pass.”

Storeowners also complained that there was no longer a beat cop on the street full time.

“We have lost lots of manpower over the past years,” Brust answered. “It is no longer possible to patrol the street full time.”

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