Safeway enlists in No Man’s Land struggle

       Safeway has begun making its store at 3275 W. Colorado Ave. less accommodating for riffraff.

One of the new "no loitering" signs is attached to a metal post outside the main entrance to Safeway. Nearby are a couple of the store's outside dining tables that, according to local resident and business leaders, were being used more often in recent months by disreputable types than by Safeway shoppers. The store has also just hired a security service.
Westside Pioneer photo

       Most visible are the new building and parking lot signs that say “Private Property - No Loitering”; also, the store has contracted with a private security firm whose guards are assigned to watch the store, inside and out.
       Addressing Colorado Springs City Council members during their Citizen Discussion period Feb. 28, Store Manager Jim Withrow described the store's response as necessary under the circumstances. “We do have a problem, we do have an issue,” he said. “I've been there two years and I've never seen the likes of what goes on.”
       The shopping center is within the area of the avenue west of 31st Street that has come to be known in recent years as “No Man's Land” - initially because of government infrastructure neglect but more recently because of transients and crime.
       Representatives of area business and residential groups have been urging Safeway to take action for over a year, pointing to parking-lot activities such as aggressive panhandling, car break-ins, public drunkenness, fights and even drug dealing.
       There also have been three recent violent crimes in the overall commercial center off 31st and Colorado since the first of the year - a man getting hit in the face with a baseball bat then robbed, a man armed with a machete robbing a pizza store and an alleged attempted rape inside Safeway itself.
       “I'm glad to see Safeway finally engaged,” said Mike Crepeau, a hotel owner representing the Avenue Merchants, a group of mostly independent business owners west of 31st. “There have been a lot of problems on that property.”
       Bonnie Lapora, representative for the Grandview neighborhood a block north of Safeway and the neighboring Red Rock shopping center, also was pleased at the news. “So far so good. I have already noticed a difference,” she said of a recent visit. “The parking lot was busy with customers. It looked very good compared to the norm over the last two years. I am very impressed with the outcome.”
       Crepeau added the wish that Safeway would “expand their horizons” even more and form a partnership with the Avenue Merchants. He's also talking to other larger businesses in the area, including Walgreens, Sonic, and the Broadmoor and Canon banks, while Lapora has sent a letter to JFR Realty, which owns the Red Rock center. “It would be helpful if everyone stood together,” Crepeau said.
       No-loitering signs were previously up on buildings in the Red Rock center, but Lapora wishes they were also out in the parking lot, as Safeway has done.
       Withrow told council that his store contacted police two weeks ago, saying, “'Here's the issue, what can we do?' They suggested signs in the parking lot and on the building, saying nobody can be out there loitering, so we've put up nine signs, and we're putting up another at the entrance to the parking lot.”
       Contracted security guards are on duty inside and outside the store from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily, Withrow said. “They're paying attention to what's happening inside the store as well as across the building out front of the store, looking for people standing around and what not. Anybody out loitering, we go out and tell them they've got to leave. If they refuse to leave, we'll call the police to come out and take care of them. It's the direction we're going. It's already taking place. It's already starting to help.”
       Withrow did not return a phone message from the Westside Pioneer after the meeting, but Crepeau said he thinks the store was driven to action, at least in part, by increasing complaints from customers.
       The council meeting also included comments from Lapora and others regarding ongoing issues in No Man's Land in general. One of the speakers was Cary Vogrin, owner of the Papa Murphy's store that was victimized by the machete robber. She thanked Colorado Springs Police for eventually arresting a suspect and for staying in touch throughout the investigation. She said she has also seen a stepped-up law enforcement presence - by police as well as El Paso County Sheriff's deputies - which has been beneficial. “Before the arrest, the parking lot had become a transient highway,” she said.

Westside Pioneer article