West 38th Street in Indianapolis is littered with signs that read like a Realtor’s dream or nightmare: For Lease, For Sale, Available, Going Out Of Business.
Burger King, Denny’s and many other stores have closed or moved from this area hit hard by crime in recent months. Police are investigating three murders and five shootings along 38th Street on the Westside since Oct. 1. Many of the crimes have happened at or near retail businesses.
Damian Heine, manager of the Meijer superstore that serves as the retail anchor of the area, says empty storefronts are one reason that business may be continuing to die in the area. “When you drive down 38th Street, you get the feeling that the area is deteriorating.”
Corinna Cohn, who owns a comic book store in the area, agrees. But she isn’t sure the sentiment is accurate. “I shop over here all the time. But the reputation of the area isn’t very good and business is getting slower and slower. I think that the perception is worse than it really is.”
But perception, right or wrong, is keeping shoppers away. Terri Ridge lives less than a half a mile from 38th Street but drives to Avon to shop. “I don’t shop on 38th Street unless I have to. It’s the violence. And, well, it’s just not kept up.”
Another area resident, Georgette Butcher, would rather go to the Keystone/Castleton area to shop. “And I would never go to Lafayette Square Mall by myself,” she said.
Lafayette Square Mall spokesman Brian Cote had no comment about the violence in the area but says that security at the mall is doing its job.
Area resident Staci Davis doesn’t agree. “You hear about the carjackings and crime in the mall, it just scares me.”
Area resident Jackie Smith doesn’t want her son working at the mall. “There’s just too much violence over there. I don’t like to eat or shop on 38th Street anymore. I mean, is the violence random? Are people just shooting at other people or do they know their attackers? I’d rather err on the side of safety.”
Store managers in the area said the 38th Street retail corridor is unique to the city. It’s a diverse area that needs help from the city to recover. But none blame the crime problems on the city’s police officers. There’s only so much they can do. “They keep us well-informed,” said Best Buy manager Donnie Ray. “But I can’t say nothing’s ever happened to me here. When I first started a guy pulled a 6-inch knife on me over an XBox Live headset. I let him go. But the police caught him right up the street.” Ray also said that their closed-circuit cameras inside and outside of the store are state-of-the-art.
Meijer is doing its best to keep its parking lot safe. “We’ve increased our store security. They’re trained to handle any situation,” Heine said. “But our security cameras can’t really zoom in on anyone’s face in the parking lot.”
And that’s the real issue for most shoppers on 38th Street. “Sure the cops may do a good job patrolling and keeping the stores informed. And maybe there’s not a lot of violence in the stores. But what about the parking lots?” wondered Westside resident Gail Keegan. “I live over here but don’t shop on 38th Street unless I have to. What am I supposed to do? When is it going to be safe for regular people again?”