Small business owners don’t have a lot of resources to deal with harassment, but whether from a neighbor or a disgruntled customer, it can be hugely disruptive. Sometimes the situation rises to the level where police will get involved, but not always, and even then resolution doesn’t always come quickly.
Northeast Philly entrepreneur Alysha Jackson, whose video about neighbor harassment recently went viral, is currently dealing with this kind of problem.
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It started after she kept finding cat food near her Sugar and Spice Kiddie Spa location on Rising Sun Avenue. Jackson is allergic to felines and her young customers didn’t always like walking by outdoor cats on their way to and from salon appointments. So Jackson confronted the across-the-street neighbor who had been setting out the food.
The neighbor responded by taking a bin of items from Sugar and Spice’s outdoor trash can and dumping it on the business’ front yard. The neighbor then sat down on the salon’s front steps.
Jackson, at this point, was sitting in her business vehicle — a small bus she drives to do birthday parties and other events — recording the incident on her phone. After she posted a video to social media, it quickly went viral, with reposts by celebrities and commenters expressing their support and anger toward the neighbor. Still, Jackson decided to shut down that location temporarily after the Oct. 30 incident.
“I closed it for the week because I didn’t want her to come back,” Jackson said. “I was scared for my customers.”
She posted on Instagram that she would reopen on Nov. 4, thanking the online audience for their support. That morning, she found her building had been egged.
The neighbor who was in the Instagram post answered the door when Billy Penn knocked on Nov. 4, but declined to talk about the dispute. Philadelphia police said they’re investigating the dumping and egging incidents, and Jackson said she’s working on improving security measures.
Sugar and Spice is on Rising Sun Avenue, surrounded by homes in a mixed-use area, like many other small businesses in the city’s outlying neighborhoods.
If harassment disrupts a situation like this, there are a few places business owners can turn.
Filing a police report
Not every disagreement requires police intervention, but business owners who encounter harassment should report the incident by calling 911 or going directly to their police district, said PPD spokesperson Miguel Torres. It’s helpful to provide video of the incident, if it’s available, or names and contact information of any witnesses.
They may also request that their district do a security check at the property, Torres said. Businesses who choose to do this should provide a notebook that officers can sign when they come by.
Assistance with cameras
Providing video of an incident is a lot easier with security cameras. The Philadelphia Department of Commerce has a program that encourages businesses to install cameras.
Participants in the Business Security Camera Program can get half of the costs covered, up to $3k for one commercial property, according to spokesperson Nagiarry Porcena-Meneus.
The Department of Commerce recommends that business owners regularly check that their cameras are working properly, have enough data storage space and cover all access points to the building, Porcena-Meneus said. They also suggest training employees on how to download images and share with police.
Conflict resolution, violence prevention and mental health services
The Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations offers assistance with addressing disagreements between neighbors, as long as the dispute hasn’t already escalated to violence or a lawsuit. Business owners are able to use this resource as well.
Requesting this service requires filling out an intake form and sending it to the PCHR.
The commission gets between 200 and 300 neighbor disputes per year, said PCHR deputy director Albert Randy Duque. It’s usually between resident neighbors, he said, but a business is involved in up to a few dozen instances per year. Most often, the dispute boils down to a resident being unreasonable about shared space or property boundaries in a row home or twin home neighborhood.
Duque said his office always asks whether the complainant has tried to initiate conversation with the neighbor themselves — that’s the first step. In the best case scenario, PCHR is able to mediate an agreement. In some situations they refer the dispute to another city department or resource, like the police or the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging.
Several 24-hour hotlines may also be helpful in navigating disputes or ongoing neighborhood issues.
The violence prevention hotline, reached by calling 211, can help callers get help with conflict intervention, neighborhood crisis mediation, peer counseling and more. It should NOT be used for handling emergencies or crimes.
The Dept. of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility has an emergency mental health crisis hotline.
Philadelphians who aren’t sure which department to tap can also turn to Philly311 for non-emergency help, Duque noted, by dialing 311 (this only works within city limits) or (215) 686-8686.
Multilingual business assistance
Business owners encountering neighborhood issues who don’t know where to start can reach out to the Office of Business Services within the Department of Commerce, said Porcena-Meneus. Their business services managers can be reached at [email protected] orl (215) 683-2100.
These staff members provide help in multiple languages besides English: Arabic, Chinese, French, Spanish, Khmer and Vietnamese.
“We work with our partners to ensure all entrepreneurs have access to resources that meet them where they are,” Porcena-Meneus said.