Some North Philadelphia business owners are refusing to follow part of the controversial “stop-and-go” law passed by City Council in December.
The law, proposed by Councilwoman Cindy Bass, requires restaurants remove the bulletproof glass surrounding their cash registers. It will be enforced by the Department of Licenses and Inspections by 2021.
Many business owners want to keep their cash registers safe behind bulletproof glass, but some residents think the setup is discriminatory.
The law will also further enforce state liquor laws, which require businesses with a liquor license to serve food, have a functional bathroom in the building and seating for 30 or more patrons.
“The establishments purport to sell food, but their food preparation areas are cold and food storage areas contain only ramen noodles or hot dogs and paper bowls,” Councilwoman Bass said in a City Council release. “This legislation will close those loopholes and require businesses to either operate as respectable, standard restaurants or else stay out of our neighborhoods.”
The provision for the bulletproof glass is mostly symbolic. Bass said in an interview with the Inquirer that the glass sends a negative message to its patrons: that they are dangerous.
Adam Xu, chair of the Asian American Licensed Beverage Association, instructed store owners not to remove their bulletproof glass despite the new law. The association has 245 members and represents nearly 95 percent of the beer delis in Philadelphia, Xu said.
Rich Kim has owned Broad Deli on Broad Street near Susquehanna Avenue for nearly 15 years, and said he will not be removing his bulletproof glass because “it saves lives.” The deli has seating and a bathroom for customers.
“If I am breaking the law, come after me,” Kim said. “But it’s not fair to say, ‘Hey, break down the wall that’s keeping you safe.’”
Xu and Kim said the law is discriminatory to Asian-Americans because this group owns most of the businesses that will be affected by the law.
The delis have a two-month grace period to comply with the law, and L&I has four years to enforce the bulletproof glass provision, Xu said, but the law’s lack of clarity and vague timeframes has some opponents confused.
“L&I and the city government are not clear on this,” said Michael Choe, the president of the Society of Young Korean Americans. “[It’s unclear] when they’re going to come in and take down the bulletproof glass or shut down their business.”
Xu, Kim and Choe said they do not have issues with the other parts of the law.
“I do understand that the state legislatures want to weed out the bad businesses that have been working the loophole around it and getting the food licenses and the food permit from the city, as if they are a legitimate restaurant,” Kim said. “I commend the city for trying to weed [out] those bad businesses.”
The law gained national attention when Bass referred to business owners serving patrons through the glass is an “indignity” in an interview with the Inquirer.
Some community residents said the bulletproof glass is disrespectful to patrons.
“It’s like you are saying that, in our neighborhood, we have everybody coming in there to rob you,” said Greg Kelly, 59, who lives on 17th Street near Diamond. “Everybody’s not coming to rob you.”
“It’s about having a level of respect for the community,” he added. “You want to come in here and take our money, but at the same time you want to be separated from us.”
Les Young, 46, of West Oak Lane, thinks the bulletproof glass is an expression of racism.
“If they open [a store] in the suburbs, would that have bulletproof glass?” Young said. “They might look at me, probably the way I dress or the way I look, and they might say, ‘He might be one of those guys. He might have a gun or he might sell drugs or whatever.’”
Xu is in contact with state Rep. Todd Stevens of the 151st District, who is co-sponsoring a bill to override the city law at the state level. Xu hopes to have the bill on the table by Feb. 12. And, if that fails, he said he plans to challenge the law in court.
“One message is loud and clear, every employer…should keep their bulletproof glass up,” Xu added. “Even if they keep the law or enforce the law, nobody will bring the bulletproof glass down. That’s it. Because we refuse.”