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Grocery store owner destroys cigarette, liquor stock

March 23, 1997

By BRENDAN KIRBY

Staff Writer

Declaring his conscience no longer allows him to sell liquor and cigarettes, Lenzlea F. Mosby Jr. on Sunday got rid of them once and for all.

More than a year after he was stabbed in a robbery at his store, Mosby burned cartons of cigarettes and poured bottles of alcoholic beverages into the gutter outside Mosby's Grocery Mart on Jonathan Street.

"I realize what we're doing here is going to be a plus for the community," he said. "I know cigarettes are addictive. Everyone who doesn't have his head in the sand knows they are addictive.

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"It just doesn't pay to sell these sin items."

It may not pay spiritually, but the products have a certain financial value. Mosby estimated 50 percent of his sales came from alcohol and tobacco.

More than 60 people showed up Sunday afternoon to voice support for Mosby's new approach.

"We want to support Mr. Mosby. He's doing the right thing," said the Rev. Todd Stroud, pastor of New Hope Alliance Church on Walnut Street. "There's no pornography in here, no cigarettes, no booze. I'd love to go to a store like this and support it."

Mosby said reaction from his customers has been mixed, with some harshly objecting. He said he is thinking of adding a deli to drum up business.

Near fatal attack

The genesis of Mosby's decision to give up alcohol and tobacco came Jan. 20, 1996, a date burned into his memory.

That Saturday afternoon, a customer, angry that Mosby would not cash his check, pulled out a knife and drove it into his cheek, neck, chest, hands and stomach.

Mosby, 62, emerged from surgery after more than nine hours under anesthesia.

"The doctors told me, had I been a cigarette smoker and my lungs had been lined with tar, at my age, I wouldn't have been able to come through the operation," he said.

Ronnie Clifton Green was convicted of the assault.

Mosby said he has also been troubled as the neighborhood around his store has slowly succumbed to drugs and violence. Stringent new rules that require businesses to check identification before selling cigarettes make the products a hassle, he added.

"It's a first step before taking harder drugs," he said. "Youngsters graduate from cigarettes to marijuana to crack."

Continuing debts

Pressing financial concerns remain for Mosby. But about a half-dozen churches have rushed to help.

The Rev. Dennis Whitmore, pastor of three Washington County churches, said churches were reluctant to come to Mosby's aid while he was still selling tobacco and alcohol.

But on Sunday, he presented Mosby with a check for more than $2,000 to help him make a mortgage payment looming at the end of the month. Whitmore said the churches have also pledged other help, including free tax advice and financial planning.

"What we're trying to do is put him a position where his store is viable," Whitmore said. "Now we've got to stand behind him and the community has to make sure we stand behind him. This is a bold step of faith."

The Rev. Anthony Carr, pastor of Mosby's church - Asbury United Methodist Church - said his congregation is also thinking of ways to help Mosby. One way is to drum up support for his business, he said.

Carr praised Mosby's bravery and prayed for him Sunday. He said he hopes the example will spur other proprietors to follow his example. If they must sell liquor, he said, he added he hopes they won't also sell items like candy that draw young children.

"If you want a better community, you have to take a stand and do something," he said.

Denise Higgins, who worships at predominantly white Park Head United Methodist Church, said she thinks Mosby's act sets an example for people of all races.

"I think it will go a long way in helping the racial issue," she said. "Black or white, when we get to heaven, it's not going to matter."

For better or worse, Mosby has drawn a line: "I don't have any regrets. I just wish I'd have had the courage to do it sooner."

Added his wife, Carrie: "It's really a big step, but we feel we can do it."

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