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‘New Day’ For Store Site Of Drug Raid In City Of Dunkirk To Reopen

Sabien Smith, left,, who seeks to open a convenience store on Zebra Street in Dunkirk, steps away from the podium at a city Zoning Board of Appeals meeting in the Dunkirk City Hall courtroom Tuesday. To Smith’s right are his attorney, Richard Morrisroe, and the property owner, Jessica Bender. In the background at the judge’s bench is ZBA Chairman Stephen Helwig. P-J photo by M.J. Stafford

DUNKIRK – A convenience store in Dunkirk is set to reopen under new management and ownership, months after a drug raid at the site.

Sabien Smith intends to open the In and Out store at 123 Zebra St., but needed a variance from the city Zoning Board of Appeals to do so because it’s in a residential district. The ZBA unanimously granted the variance Tuesday.

Smith’s attorney, Richard Morrisroe, said the previous store’s variance lapsed after it closed in the wake of the January drug bust. Four people were charged in the raid, which also hit a Deer Street building. Crack cocaine, cocaine, scales and packaging for narcotics distribution, a high-capacity magazine, and $726 in cash was seized.

However, Morrisroe said, “Smith has no relationship, personal or commercial,” with the Zebra Street store’s previous owners or proprietors. Neither does Jessica Bender, who purchased the property in March, he added.

Morrisroe acknowledged the ZBA has “likely received objections from the Dunkirk Police Department” over Smith’s plan. The lawyer emphasized again about the owners during the raid, “Those folks are no longer in charge of the store and no longer hold title to the property. Today, my friends, is a new day.”

Morrisroe went on, “Did Mr. Smith create the hardship? No. Mr. Smith is brand new to the situation… he’s willing to take that risk, that dive, into the pursuit of happiness we all deserve.”

He added that the store could help stabilize the neighborhood and he has emphasized to both Smith and Bender the need to take “streetscape, appearance, perception” into account. “There was a perception of illegal activity (at the site) before the drug bust,” Morrisroe said.

Bender bought the property “intent on a revenue stream” and will invest in it, he said.

Smith said the neighborhood has a lot of people without transportation and his convenience store would help them.

A part-time employee of the city Department of Public Works, he added, “I will put the city job down for this opportunity.” Proposing business hours of 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., he promised he would be at the store whenever necessary.

“We’re scrapping all the drug paraphernalia,” Smith said. “We’re not doing bongs, bowls, anything like that.”

Morrisroe offered a petition in support of the store from neighborhood residents. A resident of nearby East Second Street sent the ZBA a letter opposing the store, stating it has a “precedent” of crime and “would be a detriment to the neighborhood.”

The ZBA ended up granting Smith’s variance with three notable conditions:

• The ZBA will review the variance in November 2024.

• The store can only be open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

• Smith and Bender must be active in “deterring loitering, littering (and) trespassing.”

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