Westside grocery may soon close after beer board denies license

Westside grocery may soon close after beer board denies license

June 20th, 2014 by Shelly Bradbury in Business Around the Region

Former store owner and manager Moe Saleh, left, and Dennis Westmeier, treasurer of the Westside Community Association, check an item placement at One Stop Shop near College Hill Courts.

Photo by Staff File Photo /Times Free Press.

The Westside neighborhood was thrilled when Mohamed 'Moe' Saleh opened his 'One Stop Shop' store at 1221 Grove Street two years ago.

Besides selling household products, beer and toiletries, Saleh said the store would sell groceries: frozen meat, produce, milk, bread.

And that was something the Westside desperately needed. Residents in the College Hill Courts area hadn't had a full-fledged grocery store in the neighborhood for years, and the last store that sold some groceries -- a Dollar General -- closed in 2010, forcing residents to walk about a mile-and-a-half to buy fresh food at Buehler's Food Market on Market Street.

So the neighborhood welcomed Saleh with open arms.

After two years in business, Saleh sold One Stop Shop to his brother-in-law, Salman Abdo, just a few weeks ago. Because of the sale, Abdo was required to apply for a new beer license. And on Thursday, the Chattanooga Beer and Wrecker Board decided not to issue Abdo a beer license for the shop. Which means Abdo can no longer sell beer out of One Stop Shop.

Which means, Saleh said, that the store will likely close.

"Without the beer, there is no business," Saleh said.

Chattanooga police said that the store became a hotspot for loitering, illegal activity and drug sales, in large part because it is centrally located and the only store in the neighborhood. Beer board members seemed to believe Saleh was at fault for much of the illegal activity happening outside his store.

"I can't get my wheelchair in the door without someone saying, 'Hey pops, are you OK? Want some marijuana?'" beer board member Karl Eperson said. "When it opened, the Westside was promised that there would be fresh produce, fresh meats, fresh vegetables and a full line of groceries. And the previous owner never came through on it."

And while Abdo was applying as a brand-new owner of the business, the board was concerned that Abdo was Saleh's brother-in-law and Abdo planned to keep Saleh in charge of the store as a manager.

Saleh was cited on May 8 for selling alcohol to a minor, and had just finished a 7-day suspension of his beer license because of that violation. Some board members believed the store might sell again to minors under Saleh's management, and noted that a new charter school is slated to open across the street when they denied the application.

But Saleh said he only planned to manage the store until he could move back to New York and Abdo could move to Chattanooga. He said he has done everything in his power to run an upstanding business, including installing 21 security cameras, posting 'No loitering' signs, cooperating with police and attempting to bring fresh groceries into the store.

"What am I supposed to do? Change the neighborhood?" he said. "I didn't come to change the neighborhood, I came to do business."

He said he was never able to find a supplier who'd give him a competitive price on fresh groceries, but the store does sell bread, water, frozen food, canned goods, soda and candy. About half the store's business comes from beer sales.

"We will sell what the people want," Abdo told the board when they asked about his planned inventory.

Saleh said he considered hiring an off-duty police officer to work security at the store, but can't afford to pay the $30-an-hour rate. He added that he frequently shoos loiterers away from his business.

"It's not like I'm not trying," he said. "I'm trying. But what are we going to do with these guys? They're making money out here, and they're not going to just leave just because I tell them to."

Saleh said his brother-in-law no longer wants to take over the business, and he said if he'd realized what he was getting into two years ago, he'd never have opened the shop.

"[The board] acts like it is my fault," Saleh said. "The only fault I blame myself for is opening a business in this area."

Contact staff writer Shelly Bradbury at 423-757-6525 or sbradbury@timesfreepress.com. with tips or story ideas.