New gas station, convenience store OK’d for site of former criminal enterprise scheme
HUNTINGTON — The Huntington Board of Zoning Appeals unanimously approved allowing a gas station and convenience store to open at the former Save Way, which police said was once the location of a criminal enterprise scheme.
Board members said their fears of a criminal enterprise returning to the location were laid to rest after listening to the new owners during a regular meeting Tuesday night.
Husband and wife owners Iwad Jarwan and Rabia Ousdi said they intend to open Lulu Mart at 1353 Madison Ave. within the next few weeks.
Jarwan said he was not aware of the property’s history when the couple purchased it through an agent in Florida, where they previously lived. Ousdi said she would have chosen a different location had she known more about the location’s reputation.
However, both Jarwan and Ousdi said they wanted to move to Huntington and are committed to improving the neighborhood by running a legitimate business.
“We enrolled our daughter in school and at the YMCA,” Jarwan said. “We intend to make this city our home and we plan on growing a clean business.”
Jarwan said he discovered some of the bad reputation after buying the property several months ago. He arrived to find it had been broken into and every piece of copper wiring had been removed. He also found mattresses where people had been sleeping inside and evidence of drug use, he said.
The couple said they have since poured their life savings into making the store work, including installing several security cameras, new lighting and reinforced glass.
Now the building has been cleaned up and Jarwan said he won’t allow prostitution or drug activity to occur there and has already spoken with Huntington Police Chief Hank Dial about it.
Jarwan said he plans on running the store from at least 7 a.m. to midnight and not 24 hours a day. He also wants to create a security window for cashiers when it gets dark outside.
“I want to make this promise to you,” Ousdi said. “This place will be great again.”
Lulu Mart will be in the location of the now-defunct Save Way, which police said was operated by two brothers in a criminal enterprise. From 2014 to 2016, police said customers would be given lists of items needed to stock the store, which they could purchase with government benefit cards in exchange for 50 percent of the items’ cash value. Jarwan and Ousdi are not related to the two brothers and have never spoken to them.
Several members of the community spoke favorably of the new location, including Catherine McGee, who lives in the Madison Manor assisted living facility next door.
McGee said she sees the new business as a “blessing” because it has already driven away a lot of illegal activity and promises to give seniors somewhere to work part time.
Sue Wright, manager of the Central City Antique Mall, said she was in favor of having a legitimate business at the location but questioned who would be the target customers of the store.
Jarwan noted the proximity of a Speedway gas station and Dollar General nearby but said his target customer would be the average community member.
The couple said they intend to work inside t he store and hire at least three other employees. Jarwan said it would be a place where people wouldn’t be afraid to bring their children inside. The store is named after the couple’s 5-year-old daughter.
Travis Crum is a reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. He may be reached by phone at 304-526-2801.