My Turn: Proposed expansions for convenience stores are bad for the neighborhoods

Posted: Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Most people are probably not aware that some of Juneau's liquor store owners are asking the Assembly to amend our convenience store regulations. By allowing stores to expand and stock more liquor at cheaper prices, these proposals will have negative social and economical effects upon the neighborhoods in which these stores have been allowed to operate.

Convenience stores serve a purpose to neighborhoods. These stores are in an area where our children play and our families live, therefore, it is for safety purposes they remain small so impact is minimal. Their products are usually higher than commercially zoned stores; it is the choice these businesses make to reside in a residential area. If competition is desired with commercial liquor stores, they should be allowed to do so - in a commercial zone.

A liquor store in a residential neighborhood represents an inevitable rise in assaultive violence, DUI incidents, and other public health disturbances. Further, it decreases the economic attractiveness of the surrounding area, threatening property values. Increasing the volume of alcohol available for sale can only deepen the social and economic wounds borne by the neighborhood.

Countless research studies have now been conducted on the effects of alcohol outlet density on community health. For example, Scribner, MacKinnon and Dwyer studied the relationship between alcohol-outlet densities in 74 cities in Los Angeles County and published their findings in the American Journal of Public Health in 1995. They concluded that "higher levels of alcohol-outlet density are geographically associated with higher rates of assaultive violence." In fact, they found that for every outlet added, there were 3.4 additional incidents of assaultive violence.

Another study, entitled "The Spatial Dynamics of Violence and Alcohol Outlets", and published in 2002 in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol, by Robert R. Lipton and Paul J. Gruenewald similarly reported a direct correlation between density of bars and volume of assaults in a given area. Whether alcohol is sold in a store, or in a bar, the greater the volume of alcohol sold in an area, the greater the problems. A residential neighborhood is not the place to increase alcohol outlet density.

In January of 2003, the Alaska Criminal Justice Council released its updated volume of recommendations for the reduction of crime in Alaska. The vast preponderance of these recommendations involved strategies for reducing and treating alcohol abuse. Again, it must be emphasized that density of alcohol outlets is directly correlated with per-capita alcohol abuse problems. Juneau has an extraordinary level of alcohol outlet density, and can scarcely cope with the economic drain these outlets currently make on criminal justice, public health and social service budgets. DUI incidents are almost daily occurrences, too often with tragic results.

It is vital that the current proposal for the convenience store ordinance change be denied. This proposal has strongly and urgently been protested against by outraged neighbors, and the rights of these citizens to protect the safety and health of their neighborhoods are profoundly to be honored.

It is also important that the Assembly deny the request for drive-through windows at these convenience stores; such windows, ostensibly for the sale of non-alcohol items, are self-evidently vulnerable to other usage and are likely to contribute to the sales of alcohol to minors and already intoxicated persons, particularly by novice or irresponsible clerks. Such windows would also raise the risk of crime (already significant at any convenience or liquor store).

Drive-through windows for alcohol sales are illegal in many areas of the United States, for these very reasons, and it would be disingenuous to propose that a convenience store doubling as a liquor store would be less at risk. Quite the contrary. It is problematic enough that these establishments already purvey alcohol in residential neighborhoods. The addition of drive-in windows would be an act of sheer recklessness.

Anyone who is not moved by statistics might try replacing numbers with faces - the faces of the people they love in Juneau who will suffer the real increases in violence, traffic crashes and other preventable tragedies related to the expansion of these liquor stores. Let us, please, prevent such needless tragedies.

• Joe Winders is president of the Juneau chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

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