A Macon convenience store where law enforcement officials say gang members hang out may no longer be able to sell alcohol.
Several Macon-Bibb County commissioners said they will not renew an alcohol license for Super Gas, the store at 2760 Montpelier Ave. also known as M&M Grocery. The reason, they said, is because of the high number of calls that the Bibb County Sheriff’s Office has responded to at the store over the last 18 months.
Since 2016, sheriff’s deputies have addressed 144 incidents at the store, including calls for trespassing, fights and disorderly conduct, narcotics, suspicious people, theft and more. The parking lot of the Unionville neighborhood store was also the site of a April homicide.
Not renewing an alcohol license based on incidents at a convenience store is a rarity in Macon-Bibb. There have been instances in which stores lost their business licenses due to operating illegal gambling machines. And some nightclubs and bars have lost either business or alcohol licenses because of violence.
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Commissioner Virgil Watkins said not renewing the license is one way for officials to show that they don’t condone the type of activity taking place around Super Gas.
“To me, (the store) has been an eyesore and blighted for years and has proved zero positive benefit to the community it serves.”
Watkins added, “I don’t see how we can in good conscience license that behavior when we know what explicitly is going on. We’re not taking his business license. We realize that sometimes alcohol can lead to some undesirable elements.”
Sheriff David Davis gave a lukewarm endorsement of renewing the license in a May 11 letter to the County Commission. He said Super Gas was a “magnet for mischief in the neighborhood.”
Davis recommended extending the store’s license based on stipulations that there are no further incidents. Closure could have a negative impact, since a rival gang frequents a nearby convenience store.
The owner of Super Gas, Rajesh Popli, also operates three others stores in Macon, where there have not been major issues, Davis noted.
Popli did not return messages left by the Telegraph seeking comment.
“Keeping the Super Gas open will serve to separate these rival groups,” Davis said in the letter. “The Gang Unit plans to continue monitoring the area, with an eye toward reducing the friction between these groups and gathering information on criminal activities in the area.”
Commissioner Al Tillman and the sheriff spoke with the store owner in spring 2016 about ways the store could improve conditions there. Two suggestions were hiring security and having Popli become more active in the community.
The store was put on probation for six months as law enforcement and county officials monitored the business. But during that period, the store was temporarily shut down following an illegal gambling sting.
Tillman said holding store owners more accountable and encouraging them to be more active in the community where they operate their business would improve neighborhoods. It’s also the responsibility of some of the people living nearby and causing trouble.
M&M Grocery was one of nine stores and clubs that Tillman warned owners to clean up their acts in March 2016.
“We must demand more of ourselves, because we cannot shut down every business, we can’t deny every business an opportunity to sell beer and wine,” he said. “That won’t solve our issues. We have a cultural problem of grown-ass men fighting, shooting and trying to hurt each other, and it’s getting old.”
In April, Andre Jamar Taylor was shot in the store’s parking lot and died a few days later.
Since the April shooting, a walk-up window has been installed at the store, preventing people from coming inside. Also, the owner has promised to install a better security camera system, Davis said in the letter.
For Tillman, Super Gas is an extreme example of what’s also happening in other neighborhoods.
“We don’t have time to babysit and tell a man how to operate a business,” he said. “Our job is to keep Macon safe and move the community forward. What we have to tell people who live in those communities and neighborhoods: If you continue to rob, steal, shoot and kill each other, businesses will just close.”