CUP Foods: Good neighbor or bad?

Photo by Chris Juhn Demonstraters gather on 38th & Chicago to protest the death of George Floyd

The store’s controversial history has led to demands that it be closed

The intersection of 38th Street and Chicago Avenue in Minneapolis has become an international living memorial, the pavement painted with names of people whose lives were lost to police brutality. While city leaders and community members contemplate how the space will evolve to reflect its physical and symbolic role in the Black Lives Matter movement, a different conversation is taking place about the corner store that is all but buried beneath the roses, murals and messages.

“Chicago Unbeatable Prices,” known as CUP Foods, reopened Monday, August 3 despite dozens of protesters at the site claiming the move was disrespectful to George Floyd’s memory. A petition has been circulating online demanding that the store, which initially called the police on Floyd, should now be permanently shut down.

The Change.org petition, which has more than 2,000 signatures, was started by Janell Hihi and demands that the City of Minneapolis investigate and close the store for its alleged under-the-table selling of electronics.

The petition addresses store co-owner Mahmoud “Mike” Abumayyaleh and claims that his store “offers fraudulent services to residents underneath the table avoiding taxes. Those services include illegally unlocking cell phones for a fee and copying keys that are not supposed to be copied.” The petition demands that the owner of CUP Foods be “arrested and a full investigation of his illegal services is conducted by local police, FBI, Telecommunication Cell Phone companies, and the IRS for tax evasion.”

Although Abumayyaleh has stood in solidarity with the community since Floyd’s death, providing supplies at the memorial, reaching out to Floyd’s family and expressing remorse for the police being called in the first place, accusations of improprieties and illegal activities involving CUP Foods have hounded the store for most of its 30-year history in the neighborhood.

We have been in this community for three generations of our family and for 31 years have proudly served our neighborhood,” the store owner wrote in his defense on Facebook not long after George Floyd was killed by police.

Shut down by the City

In December of 2000, the Minneapolis City Council ordered the store closed for six months, although they waived 90 days of that closure and instead enforced a $10,000 fine. This followed a series of controlled drug buys at the store by the MPD; they subsequently obtained a warrant to search the premises and found stolen cell phones, ammunition, ingredients commonly used to make methamphetamine, and other drug paraphernalia. They also observed bullet holes in the door.

In his defense, Abumayyaleh offered “favorable testimony from neighbors and customers, testified to his own compliance with recommendations, and explained that he, too, sought to end the criminal activity near the intersection.”

On September 11, 2001, then-owner Samir Abumayyaleh appealed the City of Minneapolis decision to the Minnesota State Court of Appeals. CUP Foods said that the City’s attempt to sanction them was “arbitrary and capricious.” However, the document describes a review of sordid and nefarious activities on and around the premises since its opening in 1989.

CUP hires off-duty police

Although City Council Vice President Andrea Jenkins has only represented the eighth Ward officially for two years, which includes the corner occupied by CUP Foods, she has lived in the neighborhood for 22 years and been a policy aid for its last two city council members. She remembers when the store was shut down.

“The City took their license away because they were taking stolen items, paying for stolen cell phones or other things and reselling them,” Jenkins said. “The City was able to prove that and take their license away and make them respond to the different rules.

“People have been complaining about CUP Foods for decades literally,” Jenkins continued. “It has been no secret that for whatever reasons, the gangs in the area—and primarily it’s the Bloods—have deemed that corner of the intersection, and maybe even the entire intersection, as their spot. That is where they hang out, that is where they congregate, that’s where they do whatever gangs do.”

However, the store does have its supporters. After some suggested that the store should be closed on Facebook, several people posted in its defense.

“Do you know how many Black people they let have $200 to $400 tabs for groceries and phone bills until they got some money?” asked Nicoletta Jackson in a Facebook post from June 16. “Do you know how many Black people they put in apartments [saying] pay me what you can…because they had no money, because I don’t want you to be homeless?”

Long before gaining a reputation as a gang hangout and drug dealing and illegal electronics sales temporarily closed CUP Food’s doors, the convenience store had been ordered in 1993 to hire “off-duty police officers” and “report drug activity to police.” Lucas Ainsworth, a business owner from Minneapolis with investments near that neighborhood, claims to have much more recently seen off-duty MPD officers working security at the store. 

“I’ve seen multiple police officers, after hours, late at night in that neighborhood, and they’re working security for CUP Foods. They’re not just in the neighborhood working for the Minneapolis Police Department; they’re working overtime and being paid on the books from Mike as personal security,” said Ainsworth.

Despite allegations of an ongoing relationship with off- and on-duty officers, Mike Abumayyaleh questioned the integrity of the police while extending CUP Food’s deepest condolences to George Floyd’s Family in a released statement. “There is no justification for the use of reckless force displayed by the police that murdered George Floyd,” the statement reads.

“We support this protest and share in their anger. Police are supposed to protect and serve their communities; instead, what we’ve seen over and over again is the police abusing their power and violating the people’s trust.”

However, the 20 years between CUP Foods’ temporary closure and the events leading up to the killing of George Floyd are filled with shootings, drug busts, and constant police interactions on and around the property. These activities are again under intense scrutiny as people in the area dispute the past, present and future of the store and its role on the corner of 38th St. and Chicago Ave., infamous long before police were called over a fraudulent $20 bill that led to Floyd’s death.

About Analise Pruni

Analise Pruni is a contributing writer at the MN Spokesman-Recorder. She welcomes reader responses to apruni@spokesman-recorder.com.

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