Notorious East Side convenience store closed temporarily

Owner has 6 to 9 months to make needed changes

By Jessie Degollado - Reporter, Adam B. Higgins - Photojournalist

SAN ANTONIO - Now fenced off, Hayes Food Mart is closed after the owner voluntarily signed off to a compliance agreement, according to Deputy City Attorney Jose Nino. 

Nino said the owner had until Aug. 9 to avoid being taken to court to shut down the business.

He said the store, in the 800 block of North New Braunfels, was the scene of more 900 service calls by San Antonio police over the last four and a half years, including reports of 27 shootings, 26 weapons charges and 80 narcotics violations. 

Nino said the city's Dangerous Assessment Response Team, or DART, a multi-agency effort targeting problem areas, found the store was a public nuisance.

The store will remain closed for nine months, with a review after six months, Nino said. If the store is in compliance, the store could open sooner, he said.

Nino said the hope is that after several months, illegal activity will be driven away.

Owner Azam Zakaria agreed the store will no longer be open 24 hours a day, Nino said. Instead, the store, after it reopens, will close at midnight Sunday through Thursday, and at 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday, with on-site security in the late evenings. The store also must have a surveillance system and improved lighting. 

But Tommy T.C. Calvert, a longtime East Side activist with the Neighborhoods First Alliance, said neighbors would much rather it close earlier in the evening.

"It's in those hours, the wee-wee hours ...  when the criminal activity takes place," Calvert said. 

But Nino said the city also had to consider the hours of operation of other convenience stores in the area, pointing out that the goal is not to close businesses. 

Nino said whenever possible, DART tries to reclaim, restore and revitalize areas.

Calvert said he considers the closure, for now, a "temporary victory."

"This is not long term, but it gives residents a time to organize their neighborhood," Calvert said. "Criminal elements don't like an organized neighborhood."

Calvert said his group of volunteers will go to door-to-door to inform residents in the so-called "hot zone" around Hayes Food Mart, and that they can report suspicious activity through them, if they're afraid to call police.

"We'll make sure it's turned over to police," Calvert said. 

Edmond Montgomery, who previously worked in investments and real estate, said he's well aware of the store's troubled past.

Despite that, he's gone ahead with a six-figure investment of his own to open a neighborhood bar with a food truck across the street from Hayes Food Mart.

Once the renovations are done, Montgomery said he plans to have a soft opening in early September. 

Montgomery said he considers the East Side "a hidden gem" near downtown that more and more people are discovering.

"I'm just here to help support the East Side, and also, to drive people over here to do business," he said.

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