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Bulletproof glass in small Philly stores debated at Council

Supporters of a City Council ban on bulletproof glass in businesses say they degrade communities.
An Asian American protester of a bill that threatened to remove bulletproof glass from Philly convenience store. (Courtesy of the office of Councilman Curtis Jones Jr.)

A City Councilwoman's bill to potentially ban bulletproof glass from stores that she says are "skirting" regulations will be brought before City Council Thursday, even as it's sparking debate.

"The stop-n-go business model, which allows beer and liquor to be sold to adults alongside candy and soda for children, with little to no food sales, can no longer exist in Philadelphia,” said City Councilwoman Cindy Bass (D-8th district), who introduced a bill to crack down on what she says are nuisance establishments.

“This is not about plexiglass,” Bass said in a statement. “This is about what community members want, what community members demand and what community members deserve. We want sit-down restaurants in our neighborhoods that value our business and serve food with dignity and respect."

Bass refers to culprit businesses as "stop-and-go's" that have restaurant licenses so they can sell alcohol but otherwise don't fit the definition of a restaurant.

The bill originally said restaurant licenses should be upheld as requiring at least 30 seats, a public bathroom, hot food, and not have bulletproof glass.

After an outpouring of opposition, including by many Asian Americans who own some of these shops, the bulletproof glass provision was stripped from the bill Monday.

But the bill still calls on the city's Department of Licenses & Inspections to create new regulations for bulletproof glass in stores by 2021.

“The proposed bill will also align the city laws with the state liquor code, which requires 30 seats for a food service establishment to be eligible for a liquor license,” Philly Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley said at a hearing on the bill on Monday. “As a sit-down restaurant staff should be available to meet the needs of dining room guests—for example, to assist if a patron is choking or having an allergic reaction.”

Others saw curbing the use of bulletproof glass as making a statement about communities in which these businesses operate.

"The presence of bulletproof glass in corner stores promotes the dehumanization and distrust of the poor, while centering the privilege of its erector," wrote Philly activist Christopher Flood the Drummer Norris of this issue. "The glass sends the message that not only isn’t there like for, or trust of, the customer, but there is, in its place, fear."

This bill will get its first reading at City Council Thursday before being voted on.