Convenience store restricts number of young customers allowed inside

Amanda Gilbert, Reporter

A sign posted outside a south Evanston convenience store limiting the number of children allowed inside has some questioning the restriction’s legality.

Sam Syed, owner of the Open Pantry Food Mart, 821 Dempster St., said nine years ago he created a sign that reads, “Only two unsupervised  children allowed in store at any time.” The rule was necessary for crowd control, Syed said, because children were entering his store in large groups and getting hurt or stealing items.

“Things kept disappearing because I couldn’t watch them all,” he said. “This is my store. I’m alone in here.”

Despite Syed’s intentions to protect his store as well as the children entering it, Chicago anti-violence advocate Charles Jefferson believes the limit on children may be illegal. He said the sign is a representation of age discrimination and stereotypes against young people in large groups.

“I don’t like the belief that says that young people or a group of young people automatically cause trouble,” Jefferson said. “That’s not always the case and that’s not fair.”

Loyola University Law Prof. Diane Geraghty agrees that the legality of the sign is questionable. Although Syed owns Open Pantry Food Mart, Geraghty said the place is still a public accommodation.

Because the store is open to the public, the owner may impose limits to be universally applied to all customers, such as a requirement to wear shoes or formal wear, Geraghty said. She added that an age restriction cannot be applied to all customers, which makes it legally questionable.

“Sometimes this age discrimination is to protect children from inappropriate material like porn,” she said. “However, prohibiting groups of children isn’t rational because groups of adults can shoplift too.”

Not many Evanston residents have publicly challenged the sign. The Evanston City Council and police department have not received any complaints, said city spokesperson Eric Palmer.

“I don’t think the city has any standing,” Palmer said in regard to age limitations at convenience stores. “The city of Evanston is unaware of the sign in the privately owned business. I don’t think it’s something we can regulate.”

Syed said because Open Pantry Food Mart is his private property, he doesn’t care if other people think his sign is irrational or discriminatory.

“Even if the police come in, they can’t prevent me from not wanting kids to steal,” Syed said. “My business. My wish.”