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Macon food mart awaiting Friday decision on possible shutdown due to crime

Judge Bryant Culpepper says he will make the decision this Friday, July 1

MACON, Ga. — The Friends Food Mart still awaits an answer as to whether it can reopen or if it must shut its doors permanently. The Houston Avenue store became the site of three homicides over the span of a month.

Bibb County issued an order to temporarily close the food mart. They held a hearing Wednesday afternoon to see if it should close for good.

Judge Bryant Culpepper did not issue a decision after the hearing,
but Bibb County leaders say the store has a long history of trouble.

David Cooke, the Special Assistant Bibb County Attorney, says it's not the first time customers have been caught in the crossfire.

"I don't know how many people have to die for this to be considered a public nuisance, but I think we've arrived at that number," Cooke said.

On June 6, a shooting at the Friends Food Mart left two people dead, and one other person hurt, less than a month after someone shot and killed a 16-year-old at the same store.

"There's been people who have driven up to this store, a woman waiting in for her fiancé to go inside to get a Coke. Then she is caught in the crossfire of two people in the parking lot shooting at each other in their parking lot," Cooke said.

Chris Anulewicz, a property lawyer representing the food mart, argues there needs to be a stronger police presence in the area.

"Not one of the activities or harms is caused by the food mart. It's all caused by third parties," Anulewicz said.

Both attorneys had differing interpretations of what a "public nuisance" is.

"You have to have all persons who come within the sphere of the operations of Friends be damaged by the operation of Friends," Anulewicz said.

"In order to show a public nuisance, it is sufficient if it injures those of the public who may actually come in contact with it, such as a murderer," Cooke said.

The food mart's owner Bob Patel is fighting for his store to stay open. He says this month's double homicide marked the only time trouble actually spilled into the store from the parking lot.

"At the end of the day, we all admit that this area is a crime area, and we all want crime to go down in that area, but it is not the fault or cause of my client," Anulewicz said. 

Judge Culpepper says he will make the decision this Friday, July 1. Macon-Bibb commissioners recently approved a new ordinance to force food marts across the county to close between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. It's set to take effect sometime in July.

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