In a move that embattled Best Liquors owner Sunny Sharma and many of his customers see as a blatant attempt to harass him out of business, the borough of Red Bank painted the curbs at Leighton Avenue and Catherine Street yellow on Tuesday.
Borough officials say the paint job underscores what was already illegal: parking too close to a corner. But Sharma says the move is a thinly disguised attempt to drive away customers by ticketing them for doing something they’ve been doing without police interference for some 80 years.
“I don’t know how they found only one corner in all of Red Bank to paint yellow,” Sharma railed from behind the counter of his store early this afternoon, as a steady stream of customers offered a chorus of supporting comments.
“There’s a school crossing just one block away. They didn’t paint that. They didn’t paint the curb in front of Yogi’s yellow. They didn’t paint the curb in front of On the Rocks yellow,” he said, citing two nearby liquor stores.
“They couldn’t find a legal way to shut us down,” he said, referring to the recent dropped-charges case alleging the sale of beer to a minor. “So now they’re going to harass the customers. Every customer is complaining, ‘what the hell is this shit?'”
Sharma said customers who respect the parking ban will now instead park their cars in front of the homes of the very people who been complaining the most about noise and litter from his store.
“It’s retarded,” he said.
Sharma found a receptive audience for his complaints among his customers. One after another, they sought out redbankgreen to invoke their personal histories with the store and to endorse the view that Sharma is being targeted for selective enforcement.
“I’ve been coming here 58 years. This store had six owners before Sunny,” said Rudy Howard, a borough resident. “They did this to fuck with him. Go down to Yogi’s Liquor store and see if you see any yellow.”
Yogi’s is three blocks away, at the corner of Leighton and Drs. Parker Boulevard. The curbs outside the store are unpainted.
“I’ve lived my whole life in Red Bank and I’ve never seen anything like this,” says Na-eem Rashid. “It’s definitely harassment.”
“The truth is, somebody downtown got a beef with Sunny,” said Charlie Dixon. “It’s not right the way they’re picking on him.”
“I just wonder what their reasoning is,” said Mark Loprete, a Shrewsbury resident who owns a two-family house on Leighton Avenue. “Whatever the reasons are, how come the other sections of town didn’t have their corners painted?”
The yellow curbing extends about 30 feet along each side of the four corners except the Catherine Street curb that runs immediately alongside Best Liquors. There, the yellow curb appears to be about 75 long, which is longer than the store building itself and about twice the length of the one just across Catherine, where there’s a fire hydrant.
Gary Watson, director of Public Works, said he ordered the paint job after getting a complaint from a resident and inspecting the corner himself. He acknowledged that no other corners in town had gotten a recent yellow treatment.
Asked why the yellow curb is longest next to the store, Watson said he couldn’t explain the rationale, “but it’s in the ordinance, parking from the corners so many feet back.” He said he hadn’t heard any complaints about the curbing.
Even before the paint job, police started cracking down on illegally parked cars, Sharma and his customers said. They said one motorist got into a physical confrontation with police in recent days when he was approached about being parked illegally outside the store. Lt. Steve McCarthy, who handles public information requests for the police department, was unavailable today to comment on the claim.
Sharma said that last week, police on bicycle patrol forced a handicapped man to move his car from in front of the store and struggle back to the store on foot. A number of customers complained that police have been surreptitiously watching them from behind trees.
When the cops are away, though, many customers are flouting the yellow. “Fuck them lines,” said a woman in hospital scrubs who left her car idling while she ran in for a can of soda. “I’ve been parking outside this store for 20 years. I got too much going on.”
By the way, to clarify an issue that’s come up in the Comments: Sharma is a resident of a section of Middletown that’s served by the Red Bank post office.