HELL'S KITCHEN — As far as candy stores go, this one isn't too sweet.
Police said a new Hells Kitchen candy shop has been a hub of student conflict since it opened two weeks ago. It draws massive crowds of teens who stash their cellphones there during school hours, and cops have been called in repeatedly to break up fights.
The conflict at HK Candy Store at 457 W. 50th St., next to the High School of Graphic Communication Arts and down the street from Park West High School, has been so egregious that the commanding officer of the Midtown North Precinct paid a visit to the store on Tuesday, and dispatched a police van to the site Wednesday.
"I was over there [Tuesday], so I'm aware of it," Inspector Timothy Beaudette, commanding officer of Midtown North, told frustrated community members at a meeting of the Midtown North Precinct Community Council Wednesday night.
Beaudette said police are eyeing the shop's policy of storing student cellphones during school hours as a possible factor in the fights, and he added that police could try to put pressure on the owner to accept fewer cell phones in hopes of tamping down the number of teens who gather there.
He said he plans to alert a representative from the Mayor's Office of Special Enforcement to ask them to visit the shop, but warned that even if the store stopped accepting phones, students could just move elsewhere.
"It's not just here," Beaudette said. "Everyone does it. The laundromats do it, the delis do it."
Per city policy, both high schools ban students from bringing cellphones into the school building, so students seek out places to temporarily "park" the phones during school hours, returning to the sites to retrieve them after school lets out.
That's when the problems start, residents say, as hordes of students descend on the store, leading to repeated fights.
On Wednesday, a van full of officers sat outside the store at 3 p.m., as the schools started to discharge students, dozens of whom poured into HK Candy.
"What’s frustrating is I've been on this block for 22 years, we got it down to a pretty good level as far as student violence goes," Jeff Robins, who lives down the street, said at Tuesday night's meeting. "This one tiny little candy store, it completely destroyed the serenity of the block."
A man at HK Candy on Wednesday who identified himself only as "Michael" and said he was the store's manager admitted that fights have happened outside of the store, but denied the shop is to blame.
"I can't do nothing about it if it's outside," he said, adding that he runs seven stores around the neighborhood. "It's not my problem."
The manager admitted that the store accepts students' phones during school hours, but said he only accepts a few phones, and added that he provides the service to customers for free.
"Everybody's doing it. It's a good way to keep customers," he said. "They come and buy stuff when they get the phone. I don't sell cigarettes. I don't sell booze. If they got a problem with me, call a lawyer."
A student, who declined to give his name, said the store is the latest in a series of places where tensions between the two schools flare up.
"It's just 'cause everyone goes there now," the student said. "They all meet up and they settle the scores, you know?"
Brendan Lyons, the principal at the High School of Graphic Communication Arts, said he had not heard of any problems with the store, but that he would assign his safety team to investigate it.
Park West High School's principal did not immediately respond to requests for comment.