The sale of a neighborhood convenience store hardly draws notice in most cases. But for neighbors along a section of Beatties Ford Road, the pending sale of the A to Zee store has triggered community activism.
The store, which anchors a small strip of businesses in the 3200 block, has become a magnet for loiterers, drug sales and crime, some residents allege, and they are demanding that the buyer commits to addressing the community’s safety concerns.
Jackie Davis Lewis is among those most adamant. Last December, just three days before Christmas, her 30-year-old son, Cinquay Farrer, died less than 100 feet from the store. Lewis said her son had broken up a fight outside the store and was shot by one of the people involved in the scuffle.
On Saturday, Lewis led a community walk in memory of Farrer, who left behind two daughters. A small cross and a clutch of red roses mark the spot where he fell, roughly halfway between the convenience store and his mother’s home.
“Had it not been for those people hanging out over there, a fight would have never started, and nobody would be dead,” Lewis told QCity Metro. “It’s just not a place our community feels safe going.”
Others have expressed similar concerns, describing acts of violence, public intoxication and illegal drug activity on the property.
In a letter said to represent 10 nearby neighborhoods, residents asked the North Carolina ABC Commission to delay transferring the store’s liquor license to the proposed buyer, Raeford-based A & M Convenience Stores Inc., until the company agrees to address community concerns.
“The current environment at this Center threatens our safety and viability,” the letter stated. “It undermines our quality of life…”
History of violence
The aging strip of shops, in the shadow of Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, has seen its share of crime.
Last June, 14-year-old Terreon Geter was shot and killed outside an arcade there. A 17-year-old male was arrested and charged with murder.
In June, 2019, a 19-year-old woman who was pregnant was shot in the parking lot. Media photos from the time showed crime-scene tape around some of the convenience store’s gas pumps. The victim was taken to a hospital, where staff delivered her baby. Though seriously wounded, both survived, and police later charged a 16-year-old boy in the case.
Malcolm Graham, who represents the area on Charlotte City Council, said the shopping strip should be declared a public nuisance, which would allow the city to take over the property. Last summer, during a council meeting, he waved a stack of papers that he said contained dozens of police calls to the immediate area.
“We only expect one thing on Beatties Ford Road,” Graham said at the meeting, “and that is to protect and serve everybody and treat the corridor as though it was SouthPark…”
City Attorney Patrick Baker cautioned, however, that taking over a property under nuisance laws could take years.
Last week, Graham said he continues to work with city staff to address community concerns. Responding to reports of illegal activity, the city’s code enforcement department has erected fencing around a vacant car wash and laundromat that are owned by the convenience store.
Graham said he reached out to A & M, the proposed buyer, to learn more about the company’s plans for the site. He said the company wants to clean up the property but keep the businesses the same.
“We don’t want the site to just be repurposed,” Graham said. “We want a redevelopment, and one that doesn’t really include beer and alcohol [sales].”
QCity Metro called A & M last week seeking comment. No one from the company responded.
The roots of the A to Zee store run deep along the Beatties Ford Road corridor. It was called the Bitsy Bounty Food Mart in 1966, when Cicero Alexander Grier, a Charlotte native and serial entrepreneur, first opened it.
Neighbors who live nearby said Grier and his family operated the store responsibly for decades.
But in 1999, Grier sold the store, plus 1.6 acres of adjacent land, to Joseph and Vasty Newton Adu. The sales price, according to Mecklenburg County property records, was $900,000. (Grier died in 2017.)
Vasty Adu, the store’s current owner, said conditions there began to deteriorate after her husband fell ill about four years ago. Joseph Abu has since died.
“I was running it by myself, and I didn’t have too much help, so it was becoming overwhelming,” she said. “I decided to let it go.”
Adu said she chose A & M as the buyer because the company operates other convenience stores in North Carolina and they talked of making improvements to the property.
“Maybe they’ll run it better than I have been running it,” she said.
Bobby Drakeford, a real estate developer who grew up near the store and has moved back, said residents want to hear, before the sale goes through and the liquor license is transferred, what A & M plans to do about crime, public intoxication and loitering on the property.
So far, Drakeford said, the company has indicated that it will spend $500,000 for improvements but has not responded to the neighbors’ safety concerns.
“We’ve heard that before,” Drakeford said of the promised renovations. “A lot of promises have been made in Black communities over the years that have not been fulfilled.”
Lewis, whose son was killed near the store, moved back to the neighborhood six years ago. It was not the same place she experienced as a child, she said. Around the store, loitering, litter, shootings and other criminal activities have become too common.
“You didn’t have to worry about going through the parking lot and running in potholes back then,” she said. “Everybody took care of this community. When I think about how it was then, and how it is now, I never would have thought it would come out to be like this.”
Four months after her son’s death, Lewis is advocating for people to put down their guns and stop killing each other’s children.
“I don’t want another person to have to go through what I’m going through,” she said.
Lewis said she hopes that conditions around the store will improve once A & M completes the purchase. She said she wants to see it become a “community store” again, like when Grier owned it.
Graham, meanwhile, said he had hoped to see the property sold to buyers with roots in the community.
Last October, he said, he found a local couple who was willing to pay fair market value for the site, which carries a tax value of $1,023,700, according to county records. Graham said the couple wanted to reimagine the site as a mixed-use development with housing and retail, but the offer was declined by the Adu’s agent.
“I thought that would have been a win-win for everyone,” he said.