Main Street business locks doors after several incidents with suspected meth users
'I believe in the North End, so I chose to invest in the North End,' pet shop owner says despite scares
The owner of a Winnipeg pet store is locking her doors during business hours, asking customers to knock to get in, because she feels unsafe after several run-ins with people she suspects were high on crystal meth.
"It makes me really sad. I didn't open this store to lock those doors and prevent people from being able to come in freely," said Jessica Thompson, owner of Paws for Thought Boutique for Pets on Main Street.
"The scary situation is that the people that appear to be on [crystal meth] are very unpredictable and they are paranoid and they are sometimes hallucinating," Thompson said.
Thompson decided to lock the doors during business hours after a man who appeared to be high entered her store carrying a metal pipe and walked around with it on Jan. 14.
"To me it presented as a threat. This is a weapon," she said.
The Winnipeg Police Service has reported a significant rise in meth-related incidents across the city over the past few years.
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Thompson said the meth problem has caused her to think twice about how she interacts with problem patrons.
"The physical markers and the behaviour is quite obvious when they are on [meth], and unfortunately, with that drug there is more risk for violence due to the unpredictable nature of how people respond," she said.
Thompson opened her business over seven months ago and said she chose the location because not only does she live in the area, but feels it's where her services are needed most.
Her store acts as a satellite location for the Winnipeg Humane Society's low-cost spay and neuter programs.
Thompson works with residents in the area to educate them about the importance of fixing their cats, and also arranges low-cost spay and neuter surgeries for her clients.
"I believe in the North End, so I chose to invest in the North End," she said.
Worries she's a target
Thompson said last week's incident was just one of several since she's opened up shop.
Thompson often works alone in the store. She takes her dog to the shop every day for protection and no longer accepts cash.
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Thompson posted a notice to her customers on social media to let them know the reason for her locked doors.
"Locking the door was a hard thing to do. I wanted to make sure that people knew it wasn't a reflection upon people in our neighbourhood, it's a reflection upon this issue in our city," said Thompson.
She doesn't regret opening her business in the area but admits it's not what she had envisioned.
"I have no regrets about opening up here. I regret having to lock that door," she said.
"When you open a store, you open it to welcome people in."
'It's not a North End problem'
City Coun. Ross Eadie, who represents the area, said meth has caused problems throughout the community for both businesses and residents.
"It's not a North End problem.… We got needles and meth stuff happening all over the city," said Eadie.
All levels of government need to work to find solutions, Eadie said. Resources are needed for everything from addictions treatment programs to more policing and more prevention, he said.
"We have to come up with something to keep people out [of drugs] rather than treating them after," he said.
"The efforts have to be on things that help people see a better future instead of wanting to be high all the time."
More resources needed, Thompson says
Thompson said she's never had to call police about any of the incidents, but she worries she won't always be that lucky.
When she's encountered a scary situation, she's always tried to de-escalate it on her own.
"You want to call for help but you also don't want to, because that can actually escalate the situation," she said.
Thompson plans to apply for grants through the North End Business Improvement Zone to get better security measures in place, but more resources are needed for people struggling with addictions issues, she said.
"The people that are coming in that are on these substances, they need help," she said.
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Thompson would also like to see more foot patrol officers in the area.
Winnipeg police said there are six foot patrol officers in the North End district, part of the community support unit.
"That was a lucky break. We started locking our doors after dark at that time, because it was happening more after dark, but after the incident … with the man with the pipe, we've been locking them all the time now," she said.
Thompson has no plan to relocate her store and wants people to know that the problem isn't limited to just one area of the city.
"This is my neighbourhood. This is where I live," she said.
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