A standing-room only crowd gathered at the War Memorial Building on Jan. 10 to protest-and support-the hottest issue in the city's planned all-new zoning code. Some 105 liquor store owners, whose businesses have been collectively noncompliant under the zoning code for at least 41 years, are slated to have their licenses to sell booze phased out over two years, starting when the zoning code is finalized. That will be maybe two years from now, City Solicitor George Nilson estimated.
The move comes in part because of perceived crime associated with the liquor stores.
Proposed loss of their business makes the liquor store owners very unhappy. It makes many of their neighbors happy, however, and a number of them brought signs saying so. Many of the affected stores are owned by Korean-Americans, so the proceedings were translated into Korean. There is talk of a constitutional challenge, which Nilson tried to quash. The city has previously phased out other businesses, he said, including massage parlors, check-cashing stores (news to us-a cursory search found several such local businesses), used-tire storage facilities, and billboards. Courts upheld these moves, ruling that phase-out periods of 18 months or more are fair enough.
Liquor store/bar owners could get two years, plus an additional two-year hardship extension, meaning that it will be 2018 before most of these places must shut down. "That's fairly generous," Nilson told the crowd. "It would be absolutely upheld by the courts if challenged."
Outside, Hollins Market bar owner Milton Doring lit a cigarette as he climbed the stairs. "Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit," he said. He's had his place 20 years, his father had it before him. "It used to be Babe Ruth's father's" bar, Doring claims.
He'd like to sell it, but the zoning change is screwing up those plans. "I'm 65," Doring says, adding that the last offer he got was $125,000 less than he thought was right.