By Ron Leir
If your business was victimized twice by robbers within two months and then attacked by vandals about a year and a half later, would you be inclined to stay?
Naresh Patel, a Bloomfield deli owner, did and he says he’s here for the duration.
On May 5, his neighbors and local politicians rallied around Patel at his store, the A&D Deli, a block in from Watsessing Park, to honor his commitment to keep his enterprise going.
Doreen Sarcone, an executive committee member of the Watsessing Neighborhood Association (WNA) gave Patel a certificate of appreciation and Assemblyman Ralph Caputo (D-Belleville) presented an Assembly resolution recognizing Patel for his “involvement in the community.”
Recounting his experiences, Patel, 40, who came to the U.S. from his native Mumbai (formerly Bombay) in India two decades ago, previously had two stores, one a “bigger business” on Broad St. which he sold seven years ago.
It was at the deli, Maolis Ave. and Thomas St., where the crimes occurred.
On an afternoon in May 2010, two armed men entered the store, tied up Patel and a helper and stole all his proceeds. Next month, a man who had his hand in his pocket, possibly concealing a gun, threatened Patel and took money from the register. “Two senior citizens, my friends, were in the store at the time,” Patel recalled.
Then, on Jan. 5, 2012, “two guys smashed my (store) window at night,” the deli owner said.
“The first time it happened, I was shocked,” Patel said, “because never in my life was I robbed since going into business in 1988.”
But Patel said he’s gratified by the many loyal customers who not only patronize his shop but also enjoy his companionship and like to visit just to chat for a while.
“I’m at the point now where I’m not frightened at all,” Patel said. “God is with me – that’s why nothing happened to me. And the police go by often. The Bloomfield Police Department get the job done. All three guys (charged with the holdups) got caught. So if you come here and rob me, you are going down.”
During the presentation ceremony, Caputo also paid tribute to the WNA and Watsessing Park Conservancy for volunteering their time in helping to rebuild a neighborhood with an estimated 4,500 to 5,000 residents, whether it’s pressing for more police patrols or removing debris and old furniture dumped in the park.
Third Ward Councilman Carlos Bernard was also on hand to congratulate Patel and to participate – with members of the Bloomfield High School football team – in the WNA’s annual Watsessing Park Cleanup and Celebration.
Bernard said that the Essex County Sheriff’s Office sends patrols through the park “day and night” and that he has accompanied Police Chief Chris Goul on walk-throughs of the sprawling park where “we’ve focused on safety in certain areas, made sure all the lights are functioning.”
Periodically, the councilman added, “I’m also walking here with my mastiffs, looking for things to make it safer. Because if you’re not involved, things crumble.
” The Watsessing neighborhood’s boundaries, roughly tracing the park’s perimeter, are Glenwood Ave. to the north, the East Orange border to the south, Mytrle Ave. at the train station to the east and the Glen Ridge border to the west.
That neighborhood has struggled with criminal activities, such as mugging, robberies, break-ins, car thefts but Sarcone, who serves as deputy director of Bloomfield Center Alliance, said conditions are improving with the advent of more frequent police patrols both in the park and on the perimeter.
“We’ve also had block captains assigned,” Sarcone said, to be the neighborhood’s safety-conscious eyes and ears.
WNA treasurer Tim Johnson, a member since 1999 – the year after its founding – said the group is celebrating many achievements.
“Fifteen years ago, all the kids’ playgrounds in the park were a wreck but we got the county to restore them,” Johnson said. “The (Essex) Lawn Bowling grounds were overgrown but we got that fixed; we got the park gazebo restored; the entrance to the park at Prospect (St.) and Glenwood (Ave.) was basically a weed pile: now it looks like it’s part of the park.”
Additionally, outside the park, the WNA pushed for a block grant to restore the façade at the then dilapidated shopping center at Carteret St. and Morse Ave. and another block grant to pave Glenwood, from the train trestle to Llewellyn Ave., Johnson said.
On May 5, WNA and neighborhood volunteers pitched in to plant new seedlings along Glenwood and the riverbank to further beautify the park.
And, just for good measure, visitors enjoyed free refreshments and got to watch a sports club from the neighborhood playing a demonstration game of cricket on the park lawn.
All in all, not a bad way to spend a Saturday in the park.