From today’s Herald-Sun

The owner of Ben & Jerry’s in downtown Chapel Hill is attempting to sell the franchise, and if he doesn’t sell it, he plans to move the store to another location…The Chapel Hill shop has been at 102 W. Franklin St. for 19 years, but he explains there are problems with

“We’re looking at different locations a little bit further down on Franklin Street or down near Carrboro,” Healey said. “We’re trying to stay in Chapel Hill.”

Why move Ben & Jerry’s?

The current location of the store, just a few feet from Chapel Hill’s main downtown intersection of Franklin and Columbia streets, would seem an ideal location for an ice cream store. But the benches out front of the store have become a loitering spot, sometimes for homeless people and panhandlers, sometimes just for people who spend hours at a time there.

“That little section of Franklin Street, as much as we love being there, it’s just not worth all the grief it’s giving us,” Healey said.

The reporter (Beth Velliquette) observed that

On Monday around 2 p.m., a middle-aged woman and an older man sat under a tree on one of the four benches, chain-smoking cigarettes and talking and listening to music. They didn’t appear to be going anywhere soon. At one point, the woman began discussing drugs, and she cursed loudly using the f-word several times.

I work just down the street from Ben & Jerry’s and walk by those benches nearly daily. At times these benches (and others along Franklin) attract groups of raucous, sometimes vulgar, folks.

Just yesterday, for instance, I spoke with a few young guys yelling lewd remarks across the street at some women exiting the Franklin Inn. I thought if they knew someone was paying attention to their bad behavior they might knock it down a notch. It seemed to work, at least as I made my way past Vespa and out of earshot.

That they listened, if even a bit, is probably because they recognized me as well as I recognized them as frequenters of the same stretch of pavement. Heck, I bet I know, at least by sight, the “f-word” woman referred to in the article.

My concern, beyond Ben & Jerry’s and other businesses moving away, is that these types of bad behaviors are associated with all the folks lingering around Downtown. The way some folks speak of Downtown one would think the complete population of loiterers are thugs, drug addicts and downright dangerous miscreants.

From my perspective this is just not the case. Yes, there are some loiterers, panhandlers and homeless persons Downtown whose behavior is, at least, socially unacceptable and, at times, threateningly criminal.

That is not the whole population.

There are some long term lingerers that are generally innocuous but have mental or drug problems – problems they manage, I believe, within a socially acceptable manner. And then there’s folks just waiting for the TTA or their ride from work. When it comes to “managing” Downtown – responding to calls for greater crackdowns, less patience – I hope our leadership well remembers the diversity that is reflective of our society and creates a set of solutions relevant to an individuals actual – not perceived – behavior.

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