Small Business

Philly Votes to Regulate Bulletproof Glass in Corner Stores

A ban could be in effect by 2021.


Raymond Clarke Images/flickr

The Philadelphia City Council's Public Health and Human Services Committee passed a bill yesterday to regulate the use of bulletproof glass at food establishments. The original bill would have banned bulletproof glass outright, but that was changed following backlash from store owners, who said the glass was needed for their protection.

Democratic Councilwoman Cindy Bass, a primary sponsor of the bill, insisted these delis were the cause, not an effect, of trouble in her district.

"We want to make sure that there isn't this sort of indignity, in my opinion, to serving food through a Plexiglas only in certain neighborhoods," Bass said.

Speaking from personal experience as a resident of Philadelphia, the presence of bulletproof glass correlates well with the places where the city already deploys more police officers and mobile units. Banning the glass won't improve safety; it'll just make shopkeepers less safe. The bill scapegoats small businesses that the council's constituents patronize.

Republican Councilman David Oh pointed out that if store owners were forced to remove the bulletproof glass, they would have an incentive to bring firearms to work instead.

"They're not changing their business model, they're not moving," Oh said, identifying a likely ulterior motive in hassling the businesses. "What they will do is purchase firearms. I think that is a worse situation than what we have today."

As passed, the bill leaves the option open for city bureaucrats to ban bulletproof glass later. In the meantime, it imposes new regulations on stores that sell food and beer. It calls on the Department of Licenses and Inspections to promulgate new rules on the "use or removal of physical barriers" by January 1, 2021. It also requires the establishments to maintain a public bathroom that is accessible without walking through a food preparation or otherwise restricted area. (One complaint about "beer delis" is public urination outside, so this measure is intended to curtail that.)

The bill also creates a distinction between "large establishments" (with 30 or more seats) and "small establishments," creating new licenses for the latter. Supporters of the bill complained that the smaller establishments claim to be restaurants but only offer packaged foods and have fewer than the 30 seats they were up to now mandated to have.

It's not clear from the text of the ordinance when the rules will be begin to be enforced. The 2021 date applies only to regulations on physical barriers.

A bill in the state legislature would counteract the city ordinance: State Rep. Todd Stevens (R–Montgomery County) is pushing legislation that would prohibit municipalities from making certain "workplace safety" decisions. Bass has responded by saying if Stephens liked the stores so much, he should bring them to his constituents.