Loitering causing issues for business

ELKINS — An Elkins business owner has raised concerns regarding people loitering outside his storefront during business hours.

Michael McLeese, owner of Holistic Housewife located at 303 Davis Ave. in Elkins, addressed these concerns during the public comment portion of a recent city of Elkins Public Safety Committee meeting.

“I want to make a public comment that — I guess its been about the past month — I’m sure you guys are aware of the complaints about the panhandlers but what I’ve also noticed is an increase in loitering and littering in that area,” he said. “Every day, I can go outside my business and find several cigarette butts, trash and receipts. I find a shopping cart at least once a week from the Dollar General.”

McLeese went on to say he is unsure what he can do as a business owner to try to stop these issues, which he added is negatively affecting his business by preventing customers from coming inside.

“I’m sure you guys are aware of that, and I’m sure you guys are aware that other people are complaining about the loitering problem. I want to see what can be done in conjunction with the businesses and the city government because what I feel like is that, as a business owner, I feel unprotected to go out there and to tell the people that have been out there for two or three hours on the public benches ‘Hey, guys, you know, move,'” he said.

“It’s a business deterrent. It’s detracting from what the purposes of the benches are, and while I realize the benches are privately owned and that they could be removed, I fail to see why we should remove the benches from people who need them as opposed to people who are abusing them, when I do feel like there are some opportunities for us to work together to try to protect everybody’s bases,” he continued.

He added he doesn’t feel there is any “backing up” of business owners from city government.

“It’s funny to me that whenever there is an issue with the sidewalks it is a landowner sidewalk but whenever the landowners are looking to get something like this alleviated, it’s a public sidewalk. I don’t feel like there is a whole lot of backing up,” McLeese said. “I get concerned bringing the loitering thing up to people sitting out there because they just look at me and they say ‘What are you going to do about it?’ and it’s like ‘What am I going to do about it?’ because sometimes, in the case of the police, there is not enough manpower to respond to these issues in a timely manner.”

McLeese said his frustration stems from these individuals causing a loss of revenue to his business, himself and his family.

“I guess whenever it directly affects my monetary income and my family’s well-being I take it personally. If I have customers coming to me and telling me ‘Hey, listen, I was going to stop by the other day but there were these two people outside your shop yelling and this guy swinging a baseball bat around your shop …,'” McLeese said before Elkins Mayor Van Broughton interjected and said the baseball bat issue, which first appeared when a video was posted to Facebook of a man swinging a bat on the corner of Third Street and Davis Avenue, had been addressed.

“It’s more than just that issue. It’s not just the baseball bat, it’s the people sitting outside littering, yelling, sleeping on the benches and backpacking underneath the awning of Liberty Tax. It’s the encompassing issue. It’s not just one issue, it’s all of it,” McLeese continued. “I’m hoping that there can be some manner to alleviate this without requiring public volunteers or public money.”

McLeese asked if he, as a business owner, was allowed to tell people to leave. Public Safety Committee member and Fifth Ward Councilman David Parker said he did not believe McLeese had the ability to do that.

“I will speak with (Elkins Police Chief Glenn Galloway) and (City Attorney Geraldine Roberts) and see what we can do because I think it is a legitimate concern, obviously. …” Parker said. “They have to have some kind of authority to say to somebody ‘Move on,’ and that is where we get into a problem, that and the fact that you never know who you are dealing with but we will be looking to address that.”