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Bowne students vs. cafe

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Chiang Yu has owned the Main Street Cafe near 58th Avenue in Flushing for a little more than a year. Now he wants to sell it.

Yu waits behind the counter for customers every morning, but business is sleepy. In the afternoon, he knows the pace will pick up - mostly students from John Bowne High School, just on the other side of the Long Island Expressway.

The students head down Main Street in packs, sometimes a dozen to a group, usually in the early to late afternoon. And during his 13 months as the cafe's owner, he says, these bands of teenagers have stolen from his store, have defaced his property and have even smashed a window.

"Last year, they stole a box with 20 different chocolates," Yu said. "The whole box was gone."

Yu's cafe is stripped of anything not firmly fastened to a fixture. There is a small, metal bubble-gum stand on the front counter and a refrigerator with beverages off to the side. A glass display case with sandwiches and rolls rests next to the cash register. There used to be tables there, until a group of students reached into another refrigerator next to the counter to steal a Snapple, Yu said.

In a phone interview, Grady Hill, a vice principal of John Bowne High School, did not deny that some of the veracity of some of these accounts, but he did stop short of laying blame exclusively on his students.

"I think some of it's true," he said. "We have dealt with some of these students through suspensions and arrests, so we know that some of them are involved. But some of the students are from neighboring schools, so it may not be just John Bowne."

An attack on a Main Street store owner two weeks ago first shone a spotlight on the tensions between John Bowne students and some merchants along Main Street.

Deputy Inspector James Waters of the 109th Precinct said the owner of a pizza shop on Main Street was allegedly assaulted on Oct. 16 by three students from the high school. The owner suffered a black eye and was taken to New York Hospital Medical Center Queens, Waters said.

Soon after the attack, the police arrested Simarra Powell, 16, of Rosedale, Tereah Peters, 17, of Jamaica, and Shakira Taffe, 18, of Rosedale, and charged them each with misdemeanor assault and harassment, Waters said.

With merchants' concerns having reached a peak, Bowne high school administrators and residents recently met with representatives of the 109th Precinct to discuss strategies for dealing with the teenage offenders.

"We identified several issues that need to be worked on," Hill said. "Better communication has to be had between the school and the 109th Precinct, and support is of extreme importance."

But Hill added that since these reported incidents had not occurred on school grounds, it was not within the purview of school safety officers to intervene or to patrol the neighboring area.

As a result of the meeting, Waters said he increased his patrol around Main Street, just north of the Long Island Expressway, the dividing line between the 107th and 109th precincts.

"I have a lot of schools in the 109," Waters said, "but we've been paying particular attention to that area. I have cops riding the buses. I have plainclothes officers out there. And I've seen some positive results over the last couple of weeks."

Down the block from the Main Street Cafe, slightly closer to the Long Island Expressway, is L&L Stationery. It's been on Main Street for almost two decades, and the owner, who preferred that his name not be used, said he can empathize with Yu.

But remarkably, he said, he and his store have remained relatively unscathed.

"If you get tough, their reaction gets worse," the owner said one morning, exchanging lotto tickets for cash with his customers. "I try to keep some distance and keep my eyes on them."

There does not seem to be much that a high school student would want at L&L Stationery. He doesn't sell drinks or food. He does sell candy, though, and he does sell cigarettes and cigars and lotto tickets. You have to be 18 years old to buy any of those latter items.

The owner of L&L attributed the roving droves of students in the late afternoon to a lack of bus service. He said buses come once every half hour around 5 p.m. and students waiting at bus stops instead head north, past the Long Island Expressway, to bide their time.

Back at the Main Street Cafe, Yu stepped outside his store to light a cigarette. He locked his door. Walking into his basement, he gestured at a poster that prominently displayed a picture of his wife at a venue at Carnegie Hall.

His wife teaches a Chinese string instrument called a zither. Yu used to own 50 of them. Now he owns only one, sheathed in a red, silky cloth. He remembers when he left the instrument out on the counter of his cafe one afternoon and how three teenagers tried to steal it three separate times that day.

So he installed a camera.

Reach reporter Chris Fuchs by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 156.

 

Posted 7:07 pm, October 10, 2011
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