After a long legal battle to determine the penalty for an East Side convenience store’s multiple violations of city ordinance on tobacco sales, the St. Paul City Council voted unanimously last week to fine the store’s owner $1,000. Ward 6 Council Member Nelsie Yang said she hopes the fine will deter future violations.
“I’m sure it’s a wake-up call for the owner of the market,” she said. “We don’t want a business that is unlawful in our city. We want a business that is actually positive and healing our communities.”
During the meeting, photo evidence was presented of an employee of The One Stop Market at 1541 Maryland Ave. E selling single cigarettes and menthol tobacco products to multiple people, thereby violating city ordinance. The notice of violation was given in September 2020.
Assistant City Attorney Therese Skarda said during the meeting that shop owner Zakariya Abukhudeer had failed to produce surveillance video of the store, and she noted incidents of fighting, gambling and assault had occurred either inside or outside of the store.
Abukhudeer’s attorney Mark Thompson testified ahead of the council’s vote, saying Abukhudeer is an “asset” to the community who has assisted police with crimes near the store.
“Contrary to these allegations made by the city, One Stop did everything reasonable and even went beyond what was reasonable, putting themselves in danger … to go above and beyond what they were required to do.”
“There are many neighbors who are very concerned about the activities here, and so there’s still a lot that needs to be improved,” she said.
According to city ordinance, the first occurrence of a business’ display, possession or multiple incidents of sales of single cigarettes; menthol tobacco products; or flavored tobacco products is punishable by a 10-day suspension of its tobacco license. However, due to the severity of the case, the city had considered revoking the business’ tobacco license altogether.
After the case was passed along through different levels of government, the $1,000 fine was recommended to the council by an administrative law judge, which Yang said she feels is justified.
“We’re really committed to creating community safety at this intersection for everybody, and we are dedicating resources to the area,” she said.
In a statement, Thompson said he’s happy the City adopted the judge’s recommendation and did not seek further penalty.
“After three days of trial this past summer with the threat of revocation of The One Stop’s tobacco license in the balance, we prevailed on all of the more serious violations the City had alleged,” said Thompson, referencing allegations that the shop was responsible for a shooting in its parking lot and incidents of fighting and unsecured firearms. “The One Stop’s tobacco license faced revocation despite having no prior violations at all.”