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Avella fights halal mart in Bellerose

Sen. Tony Avella displays pictures taken by residents documenting quality-of-life violations at the Super Halal Meat Fruits & Vegetables market. Photo by Howard Koplowitz
TimesLedger Newspapers

State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) and Bellerose civic leaders called on a halal market on Hillside Avenue with more than $25,000 in violations to clear up the penalties or get out of the neighborhood.

While the owner of Super Halal Meat Fruits & Vegetables Inc., at 253-06 Hillside Ave., acknowledged the violations, he claimed the community was discriminating against him and harassing his business, alleging that a man pulled a gun on one of his cashiers Monday night.

Avella said the market has only been in business for a little over a year, yet it has racked up more than $25,000 in violations for unsanitary conditions and other penalties.

The senator said meetings were held with the management of the market, yet the business has done nothing to rectify the violations.

“It continues to be a quality-of-life nightmare,” Avella said, noting an area resident took photos of meat being delivered to the market on the bed of a pickup truck. “Enough of the lies, enough of the phony commitments. Shut this place down.”

City Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens), who first pointed out the violations, called on the market to be a good neighbor.

“We always welcome new businesses to our community,” Weprin said. “At the same time, the owners of this supermarket must respect the law.”

Avella said the commissioner of the state Department of Agriculture and Markets told him in August the agency had inspected the market twice and it failed both times. Halal food conforms to Muslim dietary laws.

The agency is giving the market 60 days to clean up all the violations or it will take steps to remove its license to operate.

Avella said that since the photos were taken, the market has been taking in deliveries at night — when it is harder to take photographs and a time when the state is not doing inspections.

“The owner clearly knows how to manipulate the system,” the senator said. “How much longer should this go on? It’s incredible that we have this type of situation.”

Sheraz Khan, owner of the halal market, said the business plans on clearing up the violations and does not expect it to be shut down.

“We have the violations and we’re taking care of them. It’s not like we’re ignoring them,” he said.

Khan claimed the business has been subject to discrimination by what he claims are white residents who resent Bellerose’s growing South Asian population.

“We’re being harassed here every day,” he said. “I had a guy pull out a gun on one of my workers.”

Detective Jovoda Cooper of the 105th Precinct referred questions about the incident to the Police Department’s public information arm, which did not comment.

Khan claimed three people on the block where the market is located are harassing store employees.

“I feel this is all racism,” he said. “I’m a minority just doing the right thing. I feel it’s because my skin color’s a little bit darker and my business has ‘halal’ in it. If this were a Stop & Shop or a Key Food and I was Italian,” things would be different.

But a man who lived on the block said that was not the case.

“It’s not racism. It’s a quality-of-life issue that has gone out of control,” he said. “I have nothing against these people, except for the way they’re operating the store.”

Bruno Defrancecschi, president of the North Bellerose Civic Association, agreed.

“How can you call it racist if you’re complaining about something that someone’s doing wrong?” he asked.

Khan said it cost him $1 million to build the store and presented the community with an offer.

“They give us a million dollars, we’ll leave,” he said.

Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at hkoplowitz@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

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