Arcade concerns store owner

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 20, 2004

A wolf in sheep’s clothing is an old saying that means something that appears to be one thing is really something else.

For Winston Muhammad, that is apparently the case with the new arcade housed in the old Mary’s Hair Studio Inc. building next to the Supreme Wisdom Body and Mind Bookstore on U.S. Highway 80 West.

Muhammad owns the bookstore. He said that since the new arcade opened he and other business owners in the complex have had trouble even finding a place to park. According to Muhammad, each business in the complex is allotted four parking spaces.

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“Ever since that arcade opened I’ve had to start getting here at like eight in the morning just to get one of my own parking spots,” he said. “I have had to put up signs threatening to tow people’s cars away if they park in my spots.”

Muhammad recalled a recent incident in which a woman parked in one of his spots. He said he asked her to move and she said she would. When the woman still had not moved 10 minutes later, Muhammad said he asked her daughter, who was sitting in the car the whole time, to get her mother and move the car. He said the woman eventually came out and moved her car behind a nearby laundromat, but not before cussing and pitching a fit.

“This is crazy how I got to get into arguments about parking spaces, especially when they’re mine in the first place,” Muhammad said.

He said the building in which the arcade is located had been vacant for around two years when he noticed some people in there cleaning up. “I asked them what they were going to put in there and they told me they didn’t know,” Muhammad said.

“Well, last Monday a truck pulled up and they started unloading the gaming machines — about 41 of them in all. The same two people who said they didn’t know were the same two people unloading the machines,” he said.

Muhammad said the arcade has been packed since it opened for business.

“Once I leave for the day, I could drive back by about 20 minutes later and the parking lot is slap full of cars,” he said. “That is how it’s been every day and every night for the last two weeks.”

Muhammad said he received no notice from any one with the city that an arcade was about to locate next to his business, adding, “I just feel totally disrespected as a business owner.”

Muhammad said the music coming from the arcade is so load at times that he has to play his own music to drown it out. He said that hurts his business because he can’t hear people when they come into his store.

“I have to play music of my own just to fight their music, and I have to burn incense to combat the smoke because they have no open windows the smoke comes to me,” Muhammad said.

Arcade owners face another problem that can’t be cleared up by opening a window. The complex in which it is located is not zoned for that kind of business, according to the City of Demopolis.

“It seems funny the city didn’t know about the zoning problem when they were selling them the $20,000 worth of licenses for their machines,” Muhammad said. “When I got my license I had to go before the City Council. I guess this place just got theirs and ran with it.”

Asked about the zoning snafu, Mayor Austin Caldwell said, “We’ve given them a notice that says they have to move within seven days into a building that is zoned for them.”

Caldwell said the arcade owners have found a new location, but it will take them about two weeks to move. Muhammad said that what Caldwell said was an excuse and not an action.

“I’m tired of excuses. We want something done,” Muhammad said.

Assistant District Attorney Alex Braswell said that most arcades follow the laws and pay out in tickets or coupons.

“If we catch them paying out cash, we will close them down,” Braswell said.