At the end of a long City Council committee hearing Monday, Councilwoman Cindy Bass’ proposal on protective partitions in beer deli restaurants appeared to have been shunted to the Department of Licenses and Inspections.
It appeared that L&I was ordered to write regulations to ban plexiglass partitions in beer delis, but L&I Commissioner David Perri told me Tuesday that is not true. L&I is authorized to write regulations banning partitions, or leaving them alone, or fashioning a compromise, which is the path he prefers. For the present, everything is frozen.
Last month, Bass engaged in unjustified meddling in business when she introduced legislation to ban the bullet-resistant windows from use inside restaurants. This was aimed mostly at so-called beer delis, often in low-income neighborhoods, that sell beer and malt liquor.
Bass’ idea hit a nerve, partly because of the ban itself, but also because of the reason she gave: The barriers hurt some peoples’ feelings.
“It’s an indignity” to be served by someone behind a bulletproof wall, Bass said, and several neighborhood residents at Monday’s hearing agreed, saying they felt distrusted.
Oddly, the ban was aimed only at larger restaurants, with 30 or more seats, but not smaller takeouts with fewer than 30 seats, which could keep the barriers. If it’s all about dignity, that didn’t make sense to me, but I couldn’t get an answer from Bass before deadline.
I have no doubt about Bass’ sincerity or that of her supporters. But sincerity isn’t always rationality.
How do they feel buying a subway token from a clerk in a bulletproof booth? How about having to pass money through a bulletproof window when paying their cab fare?
Do they feel distrusted when facing bulletproof glass at police districts, bank offices, check-cashing services, gas stations, and even some churches? No one likes it, but who gets insulted over it?
Feeling “disrespected” by plexiglass barriers reflects a victimhood mentality in which slights are manufactured and inflated.
And all this gets compounded by race.
Many of these so-called stop-and-go stores are in neighborhoods of mainly African American and Hispanic residents, while most of the owners are Korean and Chinese Americans.
Merchants who put up plexiglass walls didn’t do it for the fun of it. They did it because they feel threatened.
At Monday’s hearing of the Committee on Public Health and Human Services, it was residents’ feelings versus merchants’ fears.
Adam Xu, the chairman of the Asian American Licensed Beverage Association of Philadelphia, said a ban would lead to merchants arming themselves, and making the city less safe.
He has 230 members in Philadelphia, mostly in high-crime areas, and 90 percent have protective windows, he told me. The plexiglass, he said, is why his members have suffered no fatalities in more than a decade.
City Council would take that security away. That can’t be right.
“Our lives are in your hands,” said Xu in his testimony.
Some store owners were practically in tears when they talked about past assaults without safety barriers and their fear of future assaults.
“Will you be responsible if a store owner or worker or customer gets killed?” asked Kevin Kim, 53, a Korean American whose parents once owned a grocery in West Philly.
That’s when the Council committee handed the hot potato to L&I, which can take up to three years to decide. Don’t expect a quick outcome.