PATERSON, N.J. — Seeking to end Paterson's reputation for danger, drugs and destitution, the new mayor vowed Wednesday to revitalize the city with new development and a renaissance in small businesses.
Andre Sayegh took office on July 1 after serving on the City Council for 10 years. In that decade, Sayegh encouraged and witnessed his ward's transformation. He's hoping to stimulate similar changes throughout the city.
"We just cut the ribbon on this last summer," Sayegh said, pointing to a new, large shopping center of Main Street. "You can get your hair cut, you can get your medicine. You can get your eyeglasses."
PIX11 took an exclusive ride with the mayor around the city he is now charged with transforming. He pointed out the pre-school his daughter attends, a place that used to house a troubled nightclub.
"The pre-school is unique because at one point, the preschool was a notorious night club, The Lava Lounge. They had guns, they had gangs, they had drugs," the Mayor said. "They had all sorts of illicit activities taking place there."
As a councilman, he worked to have the city shut it down.
Sayegh also took PIX11 to Taskin Bakery, a family-owned operation since 1997 that just invested $500,000 to remodel its storefront.
The space has been elevated to give it an atmosphere that surpasses most bakeries found in nearby high-income suburbs, he said.
Chalkboard walls, reclaimed wood, greenery and a 150-year-old solid wood table give the space an industrial, clean and modern feel. Pastry squares are lined up neatly on display behind glass partitions, and a window provides patrons a look inside the kitchen, where fresh goods are baked daily for retail and wholesale throughout the state.
"So there will be hope there will be an improvement in Paterson. So with that hope, we invest in Paterson," said Derya Taskin, the second-generation owner of Taskin Bakery.
But in the high-crime areas of Paterson, other businesses have been forced to close up shop early every day due to the dangers outside their doors.
"I used to be here from 8 to 10 p.m. But then it got a little too rough in here, so I close at 7 o'clock," said Sam Scorpo, owner of SAVCO Restaurant Equipment on Main Street, a few blocks down from St. Joseph's Hospital. "I restrict my own business because my customers are afraid to come in here."
So he was happy to see the new mayor hosting a news conference about a block from his shop on Wednesday to announce a police-enforced curfew on businesses in the area. Beginning later this month, the commercial curfew will be set at midnight to stifle "hot spot" businesses like bars and liquor stores.
The mayor chose Mo's Bar and Liquors on Main Street to make this announcement because of the amount of calls police get about that business. Most recently, police responded to a non-fatal shooting there after a fight inside the bar spilled out into the street.
Police will be visiting all businesses in this area to notify them about the curfew. And they plan to write $500 summonses to any patrons who don't clear the sidewalk.
"If you address public safety, economic development will follow," Sayegh said.