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By sunset, most shops and social service agencies along the southeast corner of the East Village are getting ready to close. Windows are barred in this neighborhood, driveways gated and commercial properties circled with barb-wire fencing.
Police say the neighborhood can be a dangerous place to walk around at night, but at least one business owner doesn’t mind this climate also frequented by drug dealers and the homeless. At the corner of 16th and K, a mixed martial arts gym bustles with patrons until 10 p.m.
Business is good, the gym’s co-owner David Ventura said, but the area comes with conditions that other merchants “might not have the guts for.” At the gym, they’ll threaten drug dealers to leave the outside corner, detain trespassers until police arrive and clear the streets before after-school classes.
“I’ll be darned if we have kids walking past someone smoking a crack pipe,” Ventura said. “This corner, not anymore.”
Ventura’s sense of security in confronting the drug problems comes from a different source than neighboring businesses and agencies who hire private security guards for additional protection. Ventura’s gym is filled with martial artists, who exercise through methods like boxing and jujitsu. It’s a more extreme style used in ultimate fighting leagues.
“We definitely don’t have a problem going out there and telling people you can’t do this,” Ventura said. “We knew by coming here that we could help clean it up a little bit.”
Since signing a 10-year lease and opening two summers ago, Ventura said the corner outside the gym has seen less drug activity. At the same time, the gym still feels the side effects of drug crime.
Every now and then, people who are high or drunk wander into the gym, Ventura said. They see boxers, feel invincible and decide to challenge everyone inside to a fight, he said.
“People come in and want to fight,” Ventura said. “We’ve detained a couple people until police get here.”
The more surprising statistic is how often this happens — at least 30 times since opening, Ventura said.
— KEEGAN KYLE