On a Thursday morning in mid-May, two employees of the Fair Price Market & Deli begin their morning routine of cleaning the sidewalk in front of the store at 1323 14th St. NW. Armed with a broom and a hose, they sweep and spray away the debris accumulated over the previous day. It’s just the sort of civic pride neighborhood groups encourage from local businesses, especially on this overly trash-strewn strip of 14th Street.
Well, not quite.
Upon closer inspection, a mini landfill is revealed to be piling up beneath the metal sidewalk grates in front of Fair Price. Beer cans, plastic soda bottles, wet newspapers, candy wrappers, and miscellaneous food scraps lie in a huge heap just below foot traffic.
Residents in the 14th Street area bordering Rhode Island Avenue have been complaining about Fair Price’s trash disposal techniques for years. Owner Bekri Nuru has been stockpiling trash not only underground but also in the alley behind his store. Doll Gordon, a member of the Rhode Island West Group and a community liaison for the D.C. Department of Health, says she’s notified the inspectors in her office. “We
are going to look into it, sure,” she says. “Every weekend we are out sweeping the alley, trying to make it safe and clean. The main thing is that it’s unhealthy.”
Tom Day, a trash inspector with the Department of Public Works (DPW), says the convenience store has been an ongoing “nuisance” since it opened about three years ago. “[Nuru] has a responsibility to hold up the health code of his business,” says Day. “They clean, but they don’t keep clean.” According to Day, Fair Price has received four fines for its unsanitary practices.
Day notes that the nuisance doesn’t stop with the trash. “The owner is such an arrogant-acting fellow, every inspector who went in seemed to have a problem,” Day says. A team of DPW inspectors, says Day, recently warned Nuru about the sidewalk dumping.
The warning didn’t accomplish much: Nuru denies using the grate as a commercial trash disposal and insists the blame lies with others in the community. “I’m responsible for the things I do,” he says. “If somebody kills somebody [and dumps the body out front], what can I do?”
With garbage or just sheer attitude, Nuru seems intent on turning all his neighbors into enemies. Patrons of the Crew Club, a gay health spa that occupies the floor above Fair Price, say Nuru has harassed them on many occasions. The harassment, they say, includes threats by Nuru to block in club members who take parking spots in front of his store.
And when a Crew Club toilet overflowed, spewing water and sewage onto Fair Price’s produce, Nuru refused offers from the club’s management to clean up the mess, even going so far as to bar them from entering the store. The second time a leak occurred, Nuru called the police and fire departments.
The club began a formal boycott of the convenience store. In response, Nuru says, he told the club’s owner, D.C. Allen, “‘No faggot is going to run me out.’”
Trash inspector Day says the store was fined $150 last week for improper storage. No fines have been levied yet for all of the trash talk.CP