A smoke shop that attempted to open on McLean Avenue in Yonkers, right across from St. Barnabas elementary school in the heart of the Irish American neighborhood, didn’t get a blessing from the church’s pastor, Father Brendan Fitzgerald, who voiced his outrage on Facebook and got quick results, with the shop deemed illegal by a member of the Yonkers City Council.

Fitzgerald, a native of the Rockaways who was raised in Killarney, Co Kerry, expressed surprise on Labor Day morning that a stationery and convenience store at 998 McLean Avenue had suddenly transformed into a smoke shop under new management with vaping paraphernalia in the window.

“Overnight the candy store on the corner across from our school was turned into a Smoke Shop! We all know the dangerous substances that are being sold here, beyond tobacco. These stores are a danger for our kids, not just in terms of the poison they sell, but also the dangerous element they draw on for customers,” Fitzgerald wrote.

“Let’s not wait for tragedies to show our concern. This Smoke Shop needs to be closed down!”

Overnight the candy store on the corner across from our school was turned into a Smoke Shop! We all know the dangerous...

Posted by Brendan A. Fitzgerald on Monday, September 5, 2022

The post received more than 150 comments, each one expressing anger that the shop, which posted an “under new management” sign above its door, could be given the go-ahead to open so close to a school.

It didn’t take long for Fitzgerald to get a response from Yonkers City Council Member John Rubbo, who declared the shop to be illegal.

“This is being dealt with. This business is operating illegally which is why the City of Yonkers did not know that this business was opening on the corner of Woodlawn and McLean Avenues,” Rubbo wrote on Facebook.

“I am handling it. I will also be introducing legislation to reduce the number of permitted cigarette retailers in the City of Yonkers.”

Update on Smoke Shop! Thank you John Rubbo #yonkersstrong

Posted by Brendan A. Fitzgerald on Monday, September 5, 2022

For Fitzgerald, who just started his second six-year term as pastor of St. Barnabas Church, the closure came as welcome relief. Speaking to the Irish Voice, sister publication to IrishCentral, he warned against the threat that vape and smoke stores pose to impressionable young children, especially when located so close to schools.

“Because these stores are so common, people may not realize the threat they are to our kids and young people. It’s trying to normalize getting high, and does lead to dependence and a deterioration of mental, emotional, and physical health,” said Fitzgerald.

The pastor expressed gratitude for the many healthy options children have at their disposal in the Yonkers-Woodlawn area, but said that more needs to be done.

“Thank God for all the sports and music programs we have in our neighborhood. But we have to constantly be looking at what more we can do and add for our youth,” he advised.

“Maybe some business people might get in touch and consider opening a gym on McLean Avenue. There’s a need for it. There’s no gym within walking distance. There’s a perfect location I’ve identified.”

*This column first appeared in the September 7 edition of the weekly Irish Voice newspaper, sister publication to IrishCentral.