While members from Beacon Charter School, in collaboration with the Woonsocket Prevention Coalition, made strides toward keeping drug paraphernalia away from city schools, it seems the store at the heart of the issue, the In and Out Mart at Market Square, will continue to sell the products.
The store, situated 26 1/2 feet away from school property, became the focus of opponents of the products "for tobacco use only" when Principal Robert Pilkington asked Beacon students to boycott the market last month. Pilkington was dismayed to see colorful smoking pipes prominently displayed in a glass case by the register.
The issue was brought before the Woonsocket City Council, and Ordinance Chapter 14 was amended to state "No Drug and Tobacco Paraphernalia Establishment may be located two hundred feet or less from schools, child care facilities, parks and other locations frequented largely by children."
Manager of the In and Out Mart, Hiader Alkhea, said that while he was glad to move the items out of sight, he is grateful the store will still be able to operate in the city.
"That's why we opened. I have a family and I don't break the law," Alkhea said.
Alkhea said he wishes Pilkington would have discussed the matter with him before calling for a ban. "He should have come here. He's a neighbor. I don't want to fight with anyone."
Pilkington, however, said that he did mention his displeasure with the store's set-up, to both the store owner and the building manager, and additionally invited store management to a meeting to discuss school-store relations.
"On the first day, the pipes were already on display. As I'm shaking his hand, I said, 'this is not good.' He had the chance to engage me," Pilkington said. "I think a little bit of common sense needs to be applied."
In a letter to the parents of Beacon students, the principal states, "Beacon had a major impact on this issue and I'm proud of the way we stood up for the health and wellness of the school and the neighborhood." He continues "To be clear, I will never step foot in that store or give them a dime of my money." Pilkington has asked both students and parents to continue their boycott of the market.
Alkhea believes school officials have treated the establishment unfairly. "They're not thinking about why we opened here. We need to live." The manager explained that the owner has spent around $45,000 in renovations for the small operation.
"We follow the law in the state," he said."We won't sell tobacco to those under 18 - that's the law."
Claims differ as to how many students are currently patronizing the store. While Pilkington believes very few Beacon Charter students have entered, Alkhea estimated around 75 percent come in for snacks.
Alkhea pointed out that several stores, including Liberty Market on Main Street, sell similar products and are in close proximity to the school.
Distance, however, is a major point of contention for Pilkington, who noticed that the previous ordinance required such establishments to be at least 25 feet from all schools and store owners had slipped in just over the line. "They knew what they were doing," he said.
Store owners are still hopeful, however, to improve their relationship with the school and Alkhea had a message for his neighbor.
"We can work together."