The manager of a Lexington rent-to-own store says Customer Appreciation Day was ruined after being overrun by homeless people who ate the hot dogs and hamburgers he’d cooked.
Jerry Paulley, regional manager for the ColorTyme store in Eastland Shopping Center, said he called Lexington police at 11:52 a.m. to get help with dispersing a hungry crowd of about 50 or 60 people who had formed a line that snaked through the store and refused to leave.
“That should be serious enough to send a squad car,” he said.
At 12:29 p.m., he said, police called back to say “they were then getting ready to send out a car.”
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By then, Paulley said, most of his meat had been eaten and the homeless people were gone.
Lexington police Lt. Jackie Newman said police responded immediately after being notified by the dispatch center.
“It looks like it was put in as a non-priority call,” she said. “We had no idea until it was dispatched.”
Robert Stack, director of Lexington’s Enhanced 911 Center, said calls about violence or injury accidents take precedence.
“We didn’t have any units to respond,” he said. “The dispatchers can only send what they have. We sent them as soon as we had units available.”
Paulley said he started grilling at 7:30 p.m. Friday and had cooked about 64 hot dogs and 64 hamburgers for the event.
Folding tables were set up in front of the sales counter laden with bags of chips, plates of cookies and crock pots filled with burgers and hotdogs.
The store had mailed postcards to its customers advertising the free food and had put a sign on the door that announced “Customer Appreciation!! Customers only.”
Paulley said he told the first dozen homeless patrons, who showed up at about 11:15 a.m., that they could have a plate, but, “We said, ‘Please don’t go back and tell everybody else.’”
“They didn’t care, and there wasn’t no getting them out of here,” he said. “It looked like a soup kitchen.”
Paulley said employees were able to save about 10 hamburgers and 20 hot dogs by hiding them in the back of the store.
“We ended up having to take some of the food back — what we could get away from them,” he said.
Paulley said the store has supported other initiatives to help people in need.
“There’s a time and a place,” he said.
Paulley said the shopping center has a security guard who works 40 hours a week during the evenings, but at other hours merchants rely on police for security.
An overnight homeless shelter recently opened nearby.