Ramsay Park in Roxbury, a block-wide recreational space between Shawmut Avenue and Washington Street near the South End, had long been known to neighbors as a trouble spot.
Twice a week, city workers came and filled bags with broken glass and plastic, single-serving containers of hard alcohol — known as “nips” — bought at a nearby liquor store and left behind by drunks who used the park as home base.
“Over the summer, it was every night,” said Mike Fleming, 34, who lives across the street from Ramsay Park and frequently walks his two pugs there. “You’d see fights, drinking, people smoking stuff, a lot of yelling. You’d call the police, the people would leave, and then they’d come right back.”
In response to the complaints, the city removed benches along Washington Street that a spokesman for Mayor Thomas M. Menino said were “exclusively being used by intoxicated loiterers,” established a near-constant police presence in the area, and helped coordinate a cleanup of the park Saturday by students from Boston University School of Medicine.
Neighbors now say conditions at the park have dramatically improved. “It’s a night-and-day difference,” Fleming said.
But the city isn’t ready to declare victory yet. Officials from Menino’s office and community organizers will appear Tuesday morning at a hearing of the state’s Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission to ask for a restriction on the sale of nips and single cans and bottles of beer at Brothers Liquors on Shawmut Avenue, which is just steps from the park. They say most of the park’s litter originates at the store, and that it helps attract loiterers who misuse the park.
“We don’t want to hurt the business, but when the business indirectly is bringing harm to the quality of life for folks in the neighborhood, we have no choice,” said Jay Walsh, the mayor’s director of neighborhood services. “If somebody wants to go enjoy a day at the park with their family, they shouldn’t have to put up with a group of folks drinking and being disruptive.”
Victor Fernandez, who owns Brothers, is infuriated by the move. He says the shop is simply selling what its customers want and accused the city of not approaching him to work on a “compromise” before seeking the hearing.
“It’s not fair,” he said in a phone interview. “If we stop selling singles and nips, we might as well close. I wish we could sell more wine and stuff like that, but the clientele is just not there.
“If they had approached us, we could have found a way to resolve the situation. Why go through the ABCC when you can just call me or come to my store?”
Walsh disputed that account, saying police officers had approached the store numerous times, only to be rebuffed. He also noted that the store’s license had previously been restricted to prohibit the sale of single beers and nips. When that restriction was lifted, litter in Ramsay Park again worsened, he said.
“When we weren’t selling nips, there will still nips in the park,” he said. “I’m not saying we’re not part of the problem, but there are other stores.”
Saturday, the BU medical school students took advantage of unseasonably warm weather to clean the park, filling trash bags with broken glass, nips, and fallen leaves as families pushed strollers by and teens played a spirited game of pickup basketball on the park’s court. Several neighbors came out to thank the students for their work.
Richie Litto, a longtime community service officer with the Boston police who routinely walks through the park, stood outside his cruiser watching the students work. The “marked improvement” he has noticed there lately is a reward for sustained community policing efforts, he said.
“For me, this is a good day,” he said, gesturing at the volunteers and ballplayers and proudly detailing several friendly interactions he had had with grateful parkgoers. “We’re trying to be proactive rather than reactive, and partnering with the community is a huge part of that. We can’t do it alone.”
But keeping the park this way will take sustained effort, Litto said.
I’d like to think we’ve got a hold on it . . . but if you fix a problem, you’ve got to keep it fixed.”