Weekly column by Loretta Redd
Brent and Bruce Reichard, owners of the Habit on lower State Street, know a lot about burgers, but policing, social work and sanitation were outside of their expertise until they decided to reclaim the block where the restaurant is located.
Realizing their food service and ‘captive’ audience of patio diners was contributing to the growing number of young urban drifters in front, drunks and drug sales in back, and trash and cups in the streets, they did what successful entrepreneurs always do: they found a solution.
Gone, today, are the vacuous vagabonds of urban yoachers, gone are those who used the garden circle as their urinal, who shot-up in the shadows of back alleys, and others who fished out empty cups to bilk “free” refills from the soda machines.
It’s what can happen when all of the ‘gatekeepers’ trade keys and share the combination to unlock the doors of possibility.
First the brothers found a local advisor with knowledge of the area and connections to various groups, both enforcement and non-profit types. Then they called a series of meetings with the interested parties and created action items.
Rather than creating another program to rescue those on the street, rather than bemoaning that nothing had ever worked before, rather than complaining about how slow government was to react, or fearing their actions might be considered police brutality, they focused on their one block of State Street. What was the source of the problem, what made this an inviting block for misbehavior, what were the liabilities and limits of their authority, and who can make things happen?
Spontaneous solutions began to fly like synergistic popcorn…the guys from the parking garage recommended fencing the circle, which would let the greenery grow and dissuade its use as a porta-potty. Signs were erected that the dark alleyway between Blush, Dargan’s and the Habit was under camera surveillance (why not, they’re everywhere from traffic lights to ATMs) to reduce the drug commerce occurring there.
Then the artist who installed the brick “wall” in front of the Habit was invited to consider a new, more visible and artistically appreciated location…though for now, it remains encircled with yellow construction tape. Artistic expression yes, but I doubt the creator envisioned his work as the Greyhound bus stop bench it had become.
The garbage cans, once easily accessed by poachers and pigeons, sidewalk sitters and seagulls, have been replaced with those at Lake Tahoe, where trash attracts 500 pound black bears as customers. These new trash containers require the contortion of Cirque du Soleil to successfully excavate a drink cup.
Over the course of a couple of weeks, the Habit is no longer in-habit-ed. Without heavy-handed police presence or sidewalk bouncers, without Council declarations or new ordinances, without denying anyone’s civil rights, this small group of dedicated citizens, business owners, and organizations formed a tiny army of determination and took back their block of State Street.
It would appear those lost souls who had helped create an environment of intimidation and illegal behavior have completely dispersed, not just moved to the next block. But if they re-congregate, there’s now a menu of delicious action items the Reichard brothers have helped create for other business owners to select from.
And for those still on the street, there may be a job at the Habit waiting, whenever you decide to seek the programs that are available to get cleaned up, and back to work. They’d love to have you…we all would.