Lovejoy deli faces uncertain future following City Hall hearing

Hearing officer will decide whether to revoke store's license


BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – A corner deli in Buffalo’s Lovejoy section has been hit with a dozen city violations and could face the possibility of having its license revoked.

An administrative hearing was held Thursday at City Hall.

The accusations against IGA Community Express Mart, located at the corner of Ludington and Davey streets, include possessing untaxed cigarettes, garbage accumulation issues and allegations that the store was selling second-hand items without a dealer’s license.

“We will demonstrate that through proof and evidence that IGA consistently, constantly, perpetually and routinely violated each of the conditions that we will have outlined in our charges within those particular requirements,” said Assistant Corporation Counsel Rashied McDuffie, who’s with the city’s law department.

But the attorney for Nadia Alhaj, who owns and operates the store with her family, told a hearing officer that she strives to “operate a good business.”

“Ms. Alhaj, as the owner, as the license holder realizes the benefits afforded her by the city — by being here in this country,” said attorney Michael Deal. “I think that you will find as the hearing progresses that when she is in full and sole control and exercises her decisions that the business can and will be run the way that we all expect business in the city to be run.”

Alhaj’s husband — Ahmed Alshami — is facing criminal charges after he was indicted this earlier week for buying food stamp cards at half their worth, and then using the cards to purchase items to sell in the store.

Prosecutors say that from October 2014 to March 2016, Alshami bought food stamps from people for cash, normally paying just half the amount of their worth.

He has pleaded not guilty to the charges and remains jailed on $2 million bail.

At this point, the criminal charges against Alshami are not part of the pending administrative case involving the store.

Buffalo Common Council member Richard Fontana, whose district includes the Lovejoy area, has been sparring with family-run business for some time.

Fontana, who attended the hearing, has been pushing for the city to close the store.

“I think it’s a bunch of hogwash,” he said, referring to the way Alhaj was portrayed during Thursday’s hearing. “She was in court standing by her man this week on other charges. So I don’t think at this point she’s going to throw him under the bus and say that he was doing everything wrong and she wasn’t.”

“We have many witnesses that say to me that she was actually part of the problem,” he added. “She can claim that defense today, but it won’t fly in my opinion.”

During an interview with News 4 earlier this week, Alhaj fired back, saying Fontana has made this a “personal” issue.

“There’s too much drama about the store,” she said. “I’m here for 23 years and I never seen a councilman like this. I live in New York. I live in Buffalo. I live in Lackawanna. I live in Detroit, Michigan. I’ve never seen a councilman like this complain…to shut the business down.”

Other concerned citizens also attended Thursday’s hearing at City Hall.

Among them, Colleen Russell, who said she was there to represent the Lovejoy community.

She said a lot of neighborhood residents are “concerned” about what’s happening with the store.

“I think that if they’re willing to do the right thing then everybody deserves a chance, but at this point their actions have put them in the position they’re in today,” Russell said.

The hearing was closed to the public and media following opening statements from the city’s law department and the attorney representing the store.

Lou Petrucci, who’s serving as the hearing officer for the city, said he will eventually make a recommendation on whether to revoke the license, and that the final decision will be left to the city’s commissioner of permit and inspection services.

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