SOUTH BEND - It’s been a neighborhood lightning rod since a 19-year-old was gunned down in August.
Monday afternoon, police executing a search warrant raided the Olive Street Convenience Store on suspicions of selling illegal prescription drugs, counterfeit clothing and cigarettes to minors.
“There’s a right way and a wrong way to run a business,” said Capt. Phil Trent, spokesman for the South Bend Police Department.
“And on many different levels and many different ways, they weren’t going about this the correct way.”
Standing in front of a U-Haul truck backed up to the store’s front door, Trent said the raid marked the end of a “months-long investigation” spurred by “numerous complaints” from neighbors.
“We’re talking about a little bit of everything,” Trent said.
Specifically, “fake Nike” tennis shoes and the prescription drug Viagra were allegedly being sold over-the-counter, as well as “illegal cigarettes.”
The raid came just five days after the store’s owner, Ebrahim Almalbeh, sat in front of neighbors in the parish hall of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church across the street addressing complaints about violence and drug activities sparked by groups of teens hanging outside the store at all hours.
During that meeting - the third in a series of Wednesday evening community meetings - several people said things have been “quieter” around Almalbeh’s store on the corner of Prast and Olive Street since 19-year-old Steven Chatman was gunned down Aug. 18.
As he had done during previous meetings, Almalbeh reiterated his desire to make a difference in the community by hiring a private security firm to stand guard outside the store.
“Security is not for the store,” Almalbeh said last week. “It’s for the neighbors to be safe.”
Almalbeh was inside the store with police Monday and was unavailable for comment.
The owner of that private security company was “shocked” over the raid.
“In the month we’ve been there, crime was almost non-existent but for one incident,” said Aaron Durham, owner of NSA Security, citing an attempted break-in of vans in a garage behind the store.
“Why would somebody that’s tried so hard in the public eye, tried so hard to clean it up, do this?” Durham asked.
Almalbeh’s supporters asked the same question Monday afternoon.
“He’s a good man,” said Delores Branch. “You can go in there and get bread, milk, any time you want. It’s a convenience store. Worry about the store. Don’t worry about that man, he helps people.”
Another woman walking up and down Prast Street voiced her support for the store and its owner so loudly, police hauled her away in handcuffs on a charge of disorderly conduct.
Not all of the neighbors were sorry to see police take the store down.
“The whole element is what’s causing the problems in the neighborhood,” said one neighbor, speaking anonymously because, “We live here. Everybody knows us here.
“They don’t stay here,” the neighbor noted, referring to the store’s owner. “They go home at night, and they leave all that stuff here for us to deal with.”
Tony Smith sat on his motorcycle smiling as he watched police go in and out of the store.
“He may be a great guy outside here,” Smith said, “but that store ... needs to be out of the neighborhood. Let’s get this neighborhood back to where kids can walk to school.”
Trent said Monday’s raid was “the third time” the store has been cited in recent years. Last year, Trent said Indiana Excise Police hit the store for selling cigarettes to minors.
“It’s closed right now,” Trent said. “We’ll see where it goes from here.”
Staff writer Jeff Harrell: