Sophie Bolich

Guns, Drugs Cited As City Closes Chambers St. Store

Common Council votes unanimously to close Chamber East Food Market.

By - Apr 19th, 2023 03:08 pm
Screenshot from video taken at Chamber East Food Market, 200 E. Chambers St.

Screenshot from video taken at Chamber East Food Market, 200 E. Chambers St.

The Milwaukee Common Council on Tuesday unanimously voted to close Chambers East Food Market, a convenience store in the Harambee neighborhood.

The decision was one of the first following the swearing in of three additional members — bringing the council up to its full, 15-person membership for the first time in 17 months.

But the jovial mood that accompanied the beginning of the meeting quickly turned serious as the council turned its attention to Chamber East, which was recommended for nonrenewal based on myriad issues including loitering inside the store, illegal drug activity, public alcohol consumption and more.

The majority of pushback stemmed from a 32-minute video submitted to the licenses committee, which showed a group of people loitering inside the store while playing loud music, openly smoking marijuana, drinking from bottles of liquor, displaying bags of marijuana and waving guns — one of which had a silencer.

The video also showed a store employee actively participating in the antics, dancing to the music and posing for the camera along with the group. It was later revealed that said employee is the owner of the building, 200 E. Chambers St., as well as the store owner’s brother-in-law.

Attorney Michael Maistelman appeared at the April 18 meeting on behalf of licensee Davinderjit Kaur, where he told the council that Kaur has never had a problem with his license before.

According to the attorney, the video incident took place when Kaur and his wife were traveling in India. He said that neither were aware of any illegal activity inside the store.

Maistelman asked the council to consider renewal with a suspension, based on the “typical” practice of progressive discipline.

“There’s no excuse for what took place while my client was in India,” he said. “I’m not trying to minimize the video. But it has never happened before, and I can assure you — based on what my clients have said — it won’t happen again. The agent’s brother who caused these problems, and they were problems, is going to be selling the building and getting out of that business.”

But Alderman Mark Borkowski was not swayed. “There is nothing typical about firearms in this city,” he said. “And I know that I speak for all of us when I say that enough is enough. This crap has to stop. I don’t give a darn about progressive or not…it’s nonrenewal or forget it.”

Alderman Mark Chambers, Jr. echoed his sentiment. “I know you mentioned there was no prior discipline or police report or anything like that, but that video was damaging,” he said. “Whether he [Kaur] was in India or not, he’s responsible for what’s going on in his establishment.”

Several neighbors testified in support of the store during a March 29 hearing before the licenses committee.

“Please keep our store open,” said Sandra Spence, who said she has lived in the area for 59 years. “Sure enough, we’ve had problems over there…but it’s getting better now. We have more police coming through and people have stopped hanging [out] at the corner.”

She also noted that most of the problems are caused by people from other neighborhoods, and said that many neighbors — especially elderly folks — depend on the store for necessities.

Despite the testimony, council members said that the content of the video warranted nonrenewal.

“I’m a believer in progressive discipline as well,” said Alderwoman Milele A. Coggs, who represents the district where the store is located. “But I also believe in keeping our residents as safe as possible. And when you see a blatant video with firearms being brandished, with use of illicit and illegal drugs, with alcohol, with gang signs and all of that going up — so comfortably — and with the ownership participating in it, it’s all the red flags that are there, that I think skip the line of the progressive piece and tell us that it’s not far to believe that a shooting could happen, that something much worse could happen. Because all the pieces are right there.”

The store’s license is set to expire this Friday, April 21.

Kaur can apply to reopen the store in one year. A court could also grant an injunction to allow the business to operate during a lawsuit.


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Categories: Food & Drink, Weekly

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