Antioch resident Patricia Simmons, owner of T’s Internet Café, has met resistance from the city in her attempt to move her business from A Street to Second Street, a few blocks away from Prospects High School.
In addition to selling Internet time on the café’s 50 computers, the business also runs sweepstakes for free Internet time and cash prizes as a way to draw in more customers and make the environment more fun. While Simmons compares the sweepstakes to games of chance facilitated by fast food restaurants, the city declared earlier this month that the café is classified as a gaming facility. And according to a city ordinance, gaming facilities cannot operate within 1,000 feet of a school.
“(The ordinance) is defined broadly enough that it applies to playing electronic games on a computer,” Antioch Community Development Director Tina Wehrmeister said. “We have to uphold the code, and this is the requirement.”
Residents also complained to the city about some of the people who hung out at the café’s previous locations, loitering and smoking in front of neighboring businesses.
“Part of the reason why the attention has been brought to her business, is because of the calls for service that have increased and complaints that we’ve received from other shoppers or other tenants,” said Wehrmeister.
Because the café has been deemed a gaming institution emphasizing its sweepstakes and cash prizes, the city refused to grant Simmons a use permit for the Second and G streets location, a decision she is appealing.
She also feels the decision is not about the sweepstakes, but how the city perceives her café’s clientele and those who loiter around the business. Her open-door policy and eagerness to help are tenets on which Simmons prides herself. “I have people from all walks of life come into my business,” she said. “There are people that are on drugs, and we don’t judge them and we help them in many different ways. I’m being ridiculed for being the one that’s not judging them.”
After operating on A and 20th streets for roughly six months, Simmons closed down that location after problems with loiterers who were there before she opened the café. Prior to that, the café was located in a shopping center at the corner of A and 18th streets.
Simmons also owns Cot on the Web, an Internet café on Buchanan Road. She sought a more business-friendly location in her attempt to move to the downtown area.
While the ordinance targets mainly arcades, Wehrmeister said the sweepstakes, which are played on the computer, fall into this category. She added that the city is happy to work with Simmons should she choose to move her business to a location farther from a school.
In letter dated Jan. 5, Wehrmeister also informed Simmons that city employees noticed workers putting up partitions inside the building taller than 6 feet – a development that requires a building permit.
Simmons said that she thoroughly educated herself in the city’s building and use permit codes prior to paying for the property, and she believes the work is in accordance with the city code.
Angered by the city’s position, several employees of T’s Internet Café spoke or filled out a comment card at the recent Antioch City Council meeting, pleading with council members that the business is legitimate and serves as a job-searching hub for those without Internet access or a computer.
Kevin Lum, a business owner near Cot on the Web, also testified to the value of the café, calling it an “asset to the community.”
“The Internet café is a great place for individuals, no matter what stem of life they are – whether they are rock bottom broke and homeless to those that are wealthy,” employee Charles Allen said. “It gives them a place to hang out. It gives them a place to decompress.”
The council will review the matter at a later time, possibly in February.