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Store gets kudos, not customers

April 21, 1997

By BRENDAN KIRBY

Staff Writer

In the month since Lezlea F. Mosby Jr. has stopped selling alcohol and tobacco products at his Jonathan Street store, he's received certificates of appreciation, kind letters and supportive phone calls.

But what he really needs is more business.

"People give me applause, but that doesn't put money in the cash register," said Mosby, who added that his sales have dropped by half at Mosby's Grocery Mart.

Despite his financial instability, Mosby said he has no second thoughts about his decision, which he made after watching the negative impact the products have had on his neighborhood.

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Mosby, 62, showed a red folder with a certificate from the American Cancer Society and added that he received a letter from several teachers at South Hagerstown High School.

But many of the people who cheered the loudest when he announced March 23 that he would no longer sell alcohol and tobacco would never shop at his store, he said.

"I get phone calls from total strangers, and they tell me what a grand thing I did," he said. "But those are not the people who are going to come by and buy a loaf of bread."

At the same time, Mosby said he has faced an angry backlash from some of his most loyal customers who are upset they can no longer buy a pack of cigarettes at his store.

"Some people really don't like it, and they're vocal about it," Mosby said. "One man said, `You should be committed.'"

Mosby said he plans to open a sandwich deli to recoup his losses, but he added that will have to wait at least 30 days while he recovers from surgery. He said he is going into the hospital this Friday for a hernia operation and an operation on his hand, which still shows injuries from a knifing attack he suffered in January 1996.

In addition to his problems at the store, Mosby said four of his nine rental properties are vacant. His church, Asbury United Methodist Church, continues to help out with mortgage payments, but he said the charity cannot last forever.

"They can't continue to help me," he said. "I have to find a way to raise money."

One way might be to find a job while his wife runs the store, Mosby said. He added that he hopes the deli will bring in customers.

Even if it does though, he said he has no illusions about the uphill fight he still faces.

Mom-and-pop stores like his are quickly becoming a thing of the past in the face of competition by giant grocery chains. Even when he was selling tobacco and alcohol, Mosby said was not breaking even.

"(In the past) Sunday was a get-over day," he said. "Now, I don't even open Sunday."

Still, Mosby insisted he is serene in his decision.

"I'm going to give it a try. I don't have any other choice," he said. "I did the right thing."

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