It was standing room only at Cook and Shaker on Albert Street last Wednesday evening when local business owners gathered for a Fishtown Area Business Association meeting to discuss their growing concerns about crime in the neighborhood.
Various community groups, including the New Kensington Community Development Corporation, FABA, and the River Wards Crime Watch held the meeting after local business owners expressed interest in discussing their safety concerns, NKCDC Economic Development Director Joanna Winchester said.
Representatives from the 26th Police District attended the meeting to field questions and offer their own advice and suggestions.
“Be sure you’re taking the necessary precautions,” Officer Todd Oandasan said.
Good lighting and transparent windows, he said, will make protecting your business much easier.
For those who are concerned about the well being of their businesses and employees, the Philadelphia Police Department is offering a new tool for crime prevention and investigation.
The City of Philadelphia Department of Commerce’s SafeCam Program involves the installation of surveillance cameras to make areas safer for both customers and the community at large.
Business owners who participate in the SafeCam Program have the chance to be reimbursed for up to 50 percent of the total cost of eligible safety camera installations for a single commercial property, according to the city’s Department of Commerce website.
“I think it’s an awesome program,” NKCDC Commercial Corridor Manager Henry Pyatt said. “It will help neighbors, help solve crime, and let potential perpetrators know that they will get caught.”
Many who attended the meeting were concerned with what they thought was a lack of police presence in the neighborhood and called for an increase in foot and bike patrol officers.
“It would definitely be good to see more of a police presence,” Sarah Lewis of Adorn Boutique said. “I think meetings like these do help and I will always participate; however, I do think we all need to band together to get more patrols in the area.”
Lewis said she has had nuisance problems at her store in the past, but takes the proper safety precautions to ensure her safety and the protection of her employees.
“We have security cameras, panic buttons, all the necessary steps are being taken,” she said.
FABA President Andy McGowan said it’s going to take both law enforcement and neighbors and business owners to create a safe environment.
“I think it’s important for people to see that you can’t jump to blame the police,” McGowan said. “It was nice to see everyone getting the idea that the police can get just as frustrated as we are.”
Using the community resources available to them, he said, would help facilitate this goal.
“Take advantage of your local CDC, the police, and each other for help,” he said.
There was also talk at the meeting of drafting a letter to send to local politicians asking for their help and support.
“I would imagine it would be asking for an explanation of what would be needed to get more patrols in the area,” McGowan said when asked what such a letter would entail.
“We need to band together through these neighborhood organizations and speak with one voice in order to affect change,” he said.
New business owner and FABA member Allen Chambers, owner and head instructor at Philadelphia Self Defense, spoke about the services his nearly two-month-old company has to offer.
“Part of what we would like to do is give back to the community,” Chambers said.
In the future, he said the business would like to offer free self-defense workshops for FABA members.
“We want to make sure everyone’s aware of how to protect themselves,” he said.
Despite people’s concerns, many area business owners said they do feel safe operating their businesses in the neighborhood.
“We all look out for each other,” Eirini Dovas of Pinnacle Performance Partners said.
Clete Cunningham echoes this sentiment.
His welding equipment company on Trenton Street was started by his father and has been a neighborhood business for more than 60 years.
“I do feel safe,” Cunningham said. “And I really always have.”
Cunningham also offered his own advice.
“Get to know your neighbors,” he said. “Once people put a face to a particular business, it should deter them from ever wanting to mess with you.”
To register for the SafeCam program or for more information, visit safecam.phillypolice.com. ••