Town officials, police and local business owners met last Friday to talk about the in the downtown Pawcatuck area.
“We are having a good conversation with the business owners,” Police Chief Darren Stewart said. “We are going to continue to have a good dialog.”
The Friday morning meeting came about four days after the owner of McGill Chevrolet spoke with Patch about the increase in crimes both large and small that he has seen in the area in the last six months.
Sean McGill talked with Patch in the wake of the March 16 break-in at his business, in which a Westerly man is alleged to have broken windows to get in, gone into cars parked inside the service area, and then broken into seven more cars throughout the neighborhood after leaving the dealership.
In addition, McGill said he has to clean up his property every Monday morning of litter, vomit and feces, and often cars on his lot are damaged by trespassers.
Stewart said there are two issues facing downtown Pawcatuck: crime and quality of life. “Sometimes they connect,” he said, “and sometimes they don’t.
“So what do we do? How do we police something that is not a crime? Yes, it’s awful and we want to work with (business owners). If you see something, and it looks like it’s not right, call us. That’s how we work best with the community. We want to solve these issues.”
McGill was upbeat on Friday after the meeting at the police station, which was also attended by Brian Harrison, the owner of Hootie’s Good Times Café at 98 W. Broad St., next door to McGill.
“We’re working together to find solutions. I didn’t want to overreact (after the break-in) but I wanted to get it out there,” McGill said. He installed motion lights and video surveillance on the property last week.
“In four days, we’ve opened up a dialog, and that’s the most important part,” he said. “That’s the best thing that’s happened.”
One issue identified by business owners and police is the difference between the Rhode Island and Connecticut liquor laws. Rhode Island bars must close at 1 a.m. on weekends and Connecticut bars close at 2 a.m. This can cause an influx of people into the downtown Pawcatuck area late on a weekend night.
Harrison, the owner of Hootie’s, said he too has seen an increase in problems like litter and vandalism in the last few months, and he was happy to be included in the current discussions.
“We all run businesses down here,” he said. “No one wants this.”
Harrison said when he bought the bar five years ago “we inherited some issues. But we’ve gotten on top of it and made this a place where people want to come. We have pool leagues and dart leagues, DJs sometimes. I want this to be an old town-tavern style place.”
Two business owners down the road a bit, Mary Perez Comstock and Melanie Goggin, were unaware that there was a meeting about downtown public safety. But both agree that the town and police need to get the situation on their block under control.
Comstock’s business, Real Nutrition, is at 39 W. Broad, directly across the street from . The building is currently being renovated.
Goggin’s business, Mel’s Downtown Creamery, is at 37 W. Broad, directly across from the long-empty former Laura’s Landing bar at 34 W. Broad St., which has previously been cited by the town for blight.
“It’s not wonderful down here,” Comstock said of watching loiterers, some of whom are clearly intoxicated, hang around across the street all day. “All summer, I see tourists walk over the bridge from Westerly, and they hit Bogue’s Alley (at 11 W. Broad) and they stop. Because what do they see? Those rundown buildings across the street. They don’t come any farther. It hurts my business.”
She wanted to put a “cute little” A-frame sign out on the sidewalk to entice those tourists, but was told town regulations don’t allow it. She is thinking about relocating the business to the Westerly side of the river, she said.
Goggin, who just celebrated the one-year anniversary of buying the ice cream shop, said she sees public drunkenness on a near daily basis, and her employees don’t walk out to their cars at closing time alone because of safety concerns in the parking lot behind the building. Even when they go out back to put trash in the Dumpster, they go in pairs.
“If you’re down here you see it all the time and you just get used to it,” Goggin said. “But that’s not a good thing either.”
Wendy Carr, who owns Prime Time Café at 1 W. Broad (right on the river), said she thinks downtown Pawcatuck is better now than it was 15 years ago when she first opened. Eight years ago she expanded into the storefront next door and added a bar.
“We’ve seen ups and downs,” she said, “but I think right now is much better than it was. Remember the ‘bridge kids’? That was bad. But right now we are in revitalization, and Westerly is in revitalization. We are seeing more and more people coming in. We’ve been striving for this and it’s finally happening. So we are having some growing pains.”
Carr said she thinks the police department and First Selectman Ed Haberek are “pro-Pawcatuck, and very responsive. They are very proactive.”
A reader on the Stonington-Mystic Patch Facebook page raised the possibility of creating a police substation in the downtown area. Stewart said there are limitations to a proposal such as that, including that once you create it, you have to staff it. That costs money, and the police are already being asked to increase their physical presence in the schools in the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings.
“We want to interact with the public. We want to be visible,” Stewart said. “Last year, with community service officers and (regular) police officers, we got out early when the weather got warm and we got very good feedback. We plan on doing that this year. If we are visible and out and about we can curb this activity.”