Complaints prompt relocation of several downtown benches

Businesses on Broadway, Ninth Street have had problems with aggressive panhandling
Tuesday, August 31, 2010 | 6:00 p.m. CDT; updated 12:26 p.m. CDT, Friday, September 3, 2010

This story was modified to note that The Mustard Seed did not make a complaint to the city about the bench that formerly was outside its store.

COLUMBIA — Diana Parker has had her share of frustrations with the bench outside Poppy.

Parker, who is floor manager of the art shop at Broadway and Tenth Street, wrote in a June letter to the city: "While I believe in theory the benches are a wonderful idea, the reality is that they only draw in homeless people and rambunctious teenagers."


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Parker's letter, which she said was prompted by two incidents in the spring, resulted in the removal on Monday of the bench outside Poppy. Four other benches — one on Broadway and three on Ninth Street — are also being relocated in response to complaints from downtown businesses.

Two benches will be moved to the North Village area, and one will be placed outside the Tin Can Tavern on South Eighth Street. The future location of two benches was still uncertain Tuesday afternoon.

"I had gotten customer complaints," Parker said. "We'd have people outside panhandling and heckling people coming in."

Once, she said, a man stumbled into the store from the bench outside, fell on his face and began to take handfuls of prescription pills out of his pocket. Parker said she had to call emergency medical services.

Within the same week, Parker said, a man who appeared drunk came into the store during an Artrageous Friday event.

"I ended up having to stay outside with that guy for an hour, just to make sure he didn't come back in," Parker said.

These issues continued through the summer, Parker said.

"The benches weren't being used properly," she said. "I can count on one hand how many times I have seen one of our customers, or any District shoppers, use the bench."

Carrie Gartner, executive director of Columbia Special Business District, said the relocated benches were causing problems.

"We had transients moving through town drinking on the benches, and we didn't want to encourage that kind of behavior," Gartner said. "We've got a super diverse area downtown, and we'd just like to make sure everyone behaves properly."

Officer Tamara Adams of the Columbia Police Department said she has been receiving complaints about the benches on Ninth Street for five years.

Gartner said that Adams conducted a survey of downtown benches "to see where the problems were" and submitted specific recommendations on which benches should be moved.

"We moved some benches, but we're also doing a lot of other things," Gartner said. "We have a website,, that's designed to let people know that aggressive panhandling is not acceptable. The site has tips for business owners and customers on how to deal with aggressive panhandlers. If you're a compassionate person and want to help, Change for Columbia will tell you how."

Jessica Canfield, who manages the Mustard Seed Fair Trade store on Ninth Street, said her business is "probably better off" without the bench out front. The Mustard Seed, however, made no complaint to the city.

"I think it will significantly decrease the number of people congregating," she said. "It's frustrating when customers are accosted or when people get in their way."

Not everyone was happy having the Ninth Street benches moved.

"I don't like it, and I don't understand why they did it," said Emmanuel Douglas, a retired housekeeping supervisor who worked for MU. "Not everyone who sits on that bench is a transient."

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Katie Bevan August 31, 2010 | 8:04 p.m.

I'm sitting in Kaldi's and I just overheard a couple complaining that the benches were gone. They looked to be neither homeless, nor rambunctious teenagers and clearly miss the benches being available to them.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro August 31, 2010 | 10:24 p.m.

("Carrie Gartner, executive director of Columbia Special Business District, said the relocated benches were causing problems.")

So will the relocated homeless and rambunctious teenagers.

But seriously, any downtown which does not embrace the community's "homeless," mentally ill, disabled, aged and teenagers demonstrates a disregard to not only these "at-risk" folk but also shows an insensitivity and inconsideration towards the family members and those who have a heart.

(Oh, wait. It's not downtown...It's "The District.")


(Bring on the cameras. That'll entice only the uber-wealthy to shop, stroll and frequent downtown. You are a true humanitarian, Carrie Gartner. Either that, or just an every day snob.)

How's that new gigantic parking lot going to work out for you? Any cots inside for "the homeless" to camp out during the cold winter months predicted by The Farmers' Almanac?
The "homeless" are people too, you know.
Many might even be Veterans...

(Report Comment)
Tracy Greever-Rice August 31, 2010 | 11:09 p.m.

I guess Jesus wasn't referring to homeless people when he delivered the Mustard Seed parable...

(Report Comment)
Carlos Sanchez September 1, 2010 | 6:09 a.m.

Didn't Jesus say the poor and the destitute will always be with you? You would think people would get used to it by now unless they only claim to be Christians on Sunday?

(Report Comment)
Jessica Canfield September 1, 2010 | 1:26 p.m.

I would like to apologize if my comments were misunderstood. We consider Mustard Seed Fair Trade a community organization and our doors are open to all. If you have questions or concerns about Mustard Seed please contact us at

(Report Comment)
John Doe September 1, 2010 | 1:40 p.m.
This comment has been removed.
John Doe September 1, 2010 | 1:53 p.m.
This comment has been removed.
John Doe September 1, 2010 | 1:58 p.m.
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