BRIDGEPORT -- A local store owner is suing a church-run food pantry, claiming it's hurting his business.
When Emmanuel Dieujuste opened his small store, Convenience Brand Grocery Store, at the corner of Stratford Avenue and Hewitt Street last October, he said his landlord promised he would not have any competition in the same building. But two months later, the Apostolic Ark Pentecostal Church opened its free food pantry in the storefront next door.
"Other than tobacco products, they are giving away for free everything I am selling," Dieujuste complained. "Since they opened, my business is way down."
The battle has divided the East End neighborhood. Supporters of the food pantry will hold a rally in front of it Saturday morning.
"I really don't understand the challenge this store is making," said Ted Meekins, one of the organizers of the rally. "The pantry is providing food to needy families and the store is selling food to people who can afford to pay for it. There are a number of other bodegas in the area who have no issues with the food pantry being here."
The pastor of the church, Rosie Morris, could not be reached for comment.
Kenny Jacob, who lives next door to the two establishments, said he sympathizes with both sides.
"It's a tough situation," he said. "On one side, you have a church that wants to help poor people at a time when people really need it, and on the other side is a small store owner who pays his taxes and just wants to earn a living. I support the store owner."
Another neighbor, Marjorie Lane, said the store owner is being selfish. "Not everyone has the money to buy food for their families, and I think the store owner is just thinking about himself," she said.
Dieujuste said that, in an ideal world, people who can afford to buy food do just that. But these days, he said, some people given a chance to buy a loaf of bread or get it free will choose the latter.
"I don't have any issues with giving food to the poor, I think it's a good idea," he said. "I just don't want them taking away my customers, and the pantry is doing that."
Dieujuste said that before filing the lawsuit, he tried to convince Morris to move the pantry somewhere else. "I tried talking to her, but she really didn't want to understand where I was coming from," he said. "I just want to offer a clean store in the neighborhood that sells good wholesome products."