News from Patrick Flynn

Holding our liquor

In the 1980’s and early 1990’s Anchorage made a concerted effort to eradicate bars and liquor stores that catered to homeless alcoholics in and around the downtown area. One of the last to go was located at 14th Avenue and G Street and a high school friend of mine lived a couple blocks away. I remember his mom yelling at a group apparently headed for that store when they stopped in front of my friend’s house – for no good purpose, she was sure.

Thus was the community’s intolerance for liquor stores when Downtown Wine & Spirits (DWS) wanted to move from the lobby of the Captain Cook Hotel to a location across 5th Avenue. At that time Charles Wohlforthwas the Assembly representative for the area so he worked closely with the Downtown community council (DCC) and surrounding neighborhoods to craft a carefully prescribed conditional use permit (CUP) that included periodic community council review, staffing requirements, limitations on signage, restrictions on hours of operation and a prohibition on “cheap” alcohol. And, lo and behold, the conditions worked as intended: the store profited by catering to higher-end consumers and visitors staying in downtown hotels, while refusing service to public inebriates. Meanwhile, all was (mostly) quiet on the downtown package store scene until this summer.

As a new member of the Assembly – literally, in my first couple weeks after being sworn in – I was somewhat surprised to be confronted with a proposed CUP for a new package store, Grape Expectations, located on 6th Avenue between E & F Streets. The owners’ business plan was similar to that of DWS, with an added food element, and they gained the support of the DCC. During Assembly consideration of the CUP I proposed adding the same requirements previously imposed on DWS. The discussion raised a question from Bill Starr, who represents the Eagle River area, as to why we were implementing restrictions prior to any negative activity by the licensee. My response, which he begrudgingly accepted, was that fairness dictated that we treat each business in the same manner. Because of his misgivings, however, I agreed to revisit the topic with the DCC to see which, if any, of the restrictions they would consider lifting. I did so and, in part because of the community services provided by the Anchorage Downtown Partnership, the community council agreed to relax some staffing and hours of operation standards. This discussion proved serendipitous as yet another package store CUP – for Crush, located across from Nordstrom’s on 6th Avenue – arose shortly thereafter and the Assembly had the opportunity to level the playing field for all three downtown package stores.

And then things got really interesting. Brown Jug Liquor, Anchorage’s largest retail alcohol chain, announced the local owners were selling to a Canadian company, the Liquor Stores Group. This focused Assembly attention on the remarkable efforts made by Brown Jug to address some of the community issues created by alcohol abuse and the new owners pledged to continue those efforts in part by keeping Ed O’Neill, a senior Brown Jug employee, on their payroll to maintain Brown Jug’s community outreach. Because of this promise, the Assembly did not oppose the transfer of ownership at our October 14 meeting, but there was yet another CUP to consider.

The Eagle River Wal Mart, long a controversial establishment due to its location amongst otherwise residential properties, was seeking to add liquor sales to its offerings. The Assembly had delayed consideration for six weeks to allow time for the Eagle River community council to consider the application, which it ultimately opposed on a 17-13 vote. Most of the opposition appeared to have come from congregants at a nearby church, and several of them testified against the CUP. To address those concerns Bill Starr proposed two amendments for the Wal Mart CUP (yes, the same fellow who’d questioned restrictions for downtown package stores). The first restricted signage (no Dallas Cowboy cheerleader posters advertising beer, Mr. Starr cited as an example) and the second set an 18 month sunset clause, meaning Wal Mart will need to return to the Assembly by April of 2010 to verify that they’re living up to the promises they made to the ERCC (e.g. 100% id checks and no sales after 10 pm). The latter was new, no such sunset clause had ever been imposed by the Assembly on a package store, and it’s a good tool so both amendments passed unanimously before the Assembly voted 10-1 to approve the CUP.

So what does this portend for our future? Hopefully some positive things. Simply put, the majority of package stores in Anchorage are operated in a responsible manner in that they either seek to reduce, or at least avoid exacerbating, some of the social ills associated with alcohol. Others, for whatever reason, either cannot or will not seek to restrict sales to those who should not have access to alcohol. Given the chain of events over the past six months I am hopeful that the Assembly will continue to impose requirements that move all package store operators into the former category.

One potential consequence of this scenario is a reduction in the number of “mom and pop” stores and a corresponding increase in chains that can take advantage of higher volumes to offset business lost by refusing some sales. It should be an interesting process and I welcome your comments on this issue.



This contribution was made on Saturday, 18. October 2008 at 13:00 and was published under the category Neighborhoods. You can follow comments on this entry through the RSS-Feed.

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1 Comment

  1. now if you could just get that other guy on the DCC, you know the one, the guy who handles all liquor-related issues, to clean up HIS act and operate HIS establishment in the same safe and responsible manner that you require these package store operators to follow……..

    is there a double standard when it comes to bars vs. package stores ?

    why is a bar owner allowed to get away with over-serving, serving after hours and generally operating in a manner that’s a nuisance to his neighbors ?

    you need to get over the concept that it’s just homeless alcoholics that are a nuisance to the downtown core area. this is the same line of thought that a certain other member of the DCC seems to have too, and it’s just plain wrong as I’ve proven.

    just wondering how long this public nuisance will continue.

    btw, we now have live streaming audio too !

    copy and paste into your media player :

    Comment: Z – 11. November 2008 @ 5:05 am

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