New Ferguson Market owner asks court to block liquor sale prohibition, alleges discrimination | Politics

FERGUSON — Ferguson Market and Liquor, a business targeted by protesters after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, is under new management. The road for the new owners has been rocky so far.

Seham Mart LLC says the city of Ferguson ordered the market to stop selling alcohol last week, according to petition filed in St. Louis County Circuit Court.

The market’s attorney, Jay Kanzler, called the prohibition illegal and said it marked the latest of at least three forced shutdowns of Muslim-owned convenience stores by the city in recent months.

“I don’t believe the city is targeting Ferguson Market because it’s Ferguson Market,” Chancellor said. “I think they’re targeting Ferguson Market because it’s a Muslim-owned business.”

City Manager Eric Osterberg said the city council voted not to renew the market’s license at a recent meeting because of police calls to the area — not because of who owned it. He said a local gas station had also been denied renewal.

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“It is by no means discrimination,” he said.

The business, located at 9101 West Florissant Road, was thrust into the spotlight after details of the events leading to Brown’s death on Aug. 9, 2014, became public.

Brown had been at Ferguson Market before heading toward Canfield Green Apartments, where he was fatally shot by then-Officer Darren Wilson after a confrontation.

Police later released a surveillance clip from the store indicating Brown had stolen cigarillos and shoved a clerk. Protesters believed the video mischaracterized Brown and that the store should’ve done more to say so. Ferguson Market was looted at least twice and caught fire.

Protesters continued to gather outside the store, and in 2018, they called on the market to acknowledge its role in the Brown saga and demanded the previous owner relinquish it. That didn’t happen, however, and plans for a free community barbecue on the anniversary of Brown’s death also fizzled.

Then, in January, Najeh Ahmed purchased the store for nearly $2 million. He took out a Small Business Administration loan to do it and put up his home for collateral, according to the court filing.

“My clients thought that given the history, maybe with a new owner, things would be different,” Kanzler said.

The market, like many convenience stores throughout the region, still faced issues with loitering or other crimes, Kanzler said, but employees tried to prevent people from lingering, keep security footage and cooperate with law enforcement.

In June, inspectors denied a liquor license renewal, ordering the store to restripe the parking lot, clear some weeds and pick up litter. About a month later, the inspection was passed, according to permits from the city attached to the filing.

Then, on Wednesday, an inspector entered the store and told them to stop selling alcohol, according to the filing. Chancellor said his clients still hadn’t gotten any explanation or written notice about why.

He said he felt the Ferguson Market and other convenience stores were being scapegoated for broader public safety problems in the city. Another Muslim-owned convenience store he represents, RR Mini Mart, had its license suspended over multiple police calls. Cousins ​​Mini Market was still awaiting the renewal of its business license weeks after it applied, he said.

“Everyone wants to blame someone,” he said. “My clients are very easy.”

Osterberg said the city is willing to work with people to address public health and safety concerns. In the case of the liquor license suspension at RR Mini Mart, he said the city met with the owners reinstated it after the owners made plans to increase security and reduce hours.

He said the Ferguson Market could apply for a new liquor license if they so choose.

Meanwhile, Chancellor’s filing asks the court to stop the city from prohibiting Ferguson Market from selling alcohol and declare the city’s order “null, void and of no effect.”

A hearing has not been set in the case.

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