C-Stores Protest Proposed Cheap-Beer Ban

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C-Stores Protest Proposed Cheap-Beer Ban

SEATTLE -- Prompted by complaints from increasingly upscale Seattle neighborhoods, the Washington State Liquor Control Board is considering new rules that would yank 34 cheap beers and fortified wines from c-store coolers, The Seattle Times reported.

Steel Reserve, Olde English "800" and Thunderbird would be among those banned. The proposed ban would cover six square miles of Seattle, including downtown, Capitol Hill, Chinatown International District, the Central Area and University District.

It's an experiment aimed at shooing street drunks out of those neighborhoods designated as alcohol-impact areas (AIAs) by the liquor board because of their high rate of complaints about street drinking, the newspaper said.

Big grocery stores like QFC and Safeway have accepted the rules with a shrug, and there is no organized lobby of malt-liquor drinkers. That's left the convenience stores as the only real opponents. Virtually all who have protested at recent public hearings were immigrant store owners from South Korea and East Africa.

The owners told The Seattle Times they feel singled out since the beers and wines on the proposed ban list will remain legal almost everywhere else in the city and state.

Amare Taye, who opened a small convenience store in Seattle's Central Area in 1998, said he thinks the government is trying to put him out of business.

"They're going to push me to the curb. I really have no idea what I am going to do," Taye said. "I think about it when I sleep. I think about it when I walk around. I think about it when I am with my family."

"I wouldn't mind if it was countywide. Why Cherry Street? Why Capitol Hill?" added Aklilu Mekuria, who owns Tana Market. He figures without the beer, he’ll have to close. Pointing to the sidewalk outside his store, he said “Look around. How many beers do you see? How many people do you see drinking outside?"

Mekuria acknowledges that a few of the people who buy the beer at his store are street alcoholics. But most of his customers are just "low-income working people who can't afford the other beer,” he told the newspaper.

Supporters of the ban say convenience stores can survive -- and maybe even attract new customers -- by selling other products.

Jordan Royer, public-safety adviser to Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, recognizes that some stores might close if the new rules are approved by the liquor board, but he thinks most will adjust, The Seattle Times said. He pointed to a Korean American-owned store downtown whose owners recently testified that business went up after they stopped selling beers and wines favored by homeless drunks.

"Change is hard, and I think this is probably a business plan that seems to work, so they don't want to change," Royer said, while noting that the city is not trying to hurt immigrant store owners. He said he has met with many store owners and has tried to get them to accept the new rules voluntarily for the good of the neighborhood. Most refused, prompting the city to seek to make the booze ban mandatory.

Royer said the AIA boundary is focused on the central core of the city for now, but could be expanded to other neighborhoods if problems emerge there.

The liquor board is not expected to make a final decision until later this summer. The board could decide Seattle officials have overreached. The three-member panel has the power to alter or reject any of the city's recommendations, the newspaper said.