Stores ignoring voluntary ban on high-alcohol drinks

downtown olympia: Only 3 of 8 affected businesses comply with city’s request

Staff writerSeptember 10, 2012 

Most downtown businesses are failing to comply with Olympia’s voluntary ban on single-serve, high-octane alcohol drinks.

Brian Wilson, downtown liaison for the City of Olympia, said three out of eight businesses affected are complying with the ban: Hulbert Shell, Bayview Thriftway and T Brothers Liquor Lodge, which is a former state liquor store.

He said the others aren’t: Lucky Seven, Fourth Avenue Food Mart, the Shell station at State Avenue and Plum Street, Capitol Lake Grocery, and Washington Street Market.

“We haven’t seen much change,” Wilson said. “The ones who were complying before the voluntary ban came into place are continuing to comply.”

The Olympia City Council voted in March to ban 70 brands of cheap, high-alcohol products in a portion of downtown to reduce chronic public inebriation and related problems, such as fights and public urination. A month later, the council reduced the number of drinks on the list to 62, after finding that some of the drinks didn’t meet the criteria for a ban.

The city is targeting drinks such as Dog Bite, a 24-ounce can of malt liquor that contains 10 percent alcohol and sells for about $1.39.

In doing so, the council declared a state-sanctioned Alcohol Impact Area. If the voluntary ban doesn’t work after six months, the city can petition the state to make the ban mandatory.

The noncompliance is not a surprise. The Olympian reported in March that four store owners spoke out against the ban.

Perry Park, owner of Capitol Lake Grocery, said at the time that the alcohol ban is discriminatory. “It’s about their right to do business that’s being taken away,” he said, “because we happen to be doing business in this area.”

Wilson said the six-month minimum period for the voluntary ban is up in November, because of the changes made to the banned list. The issue will come before the City Council then.

If the city decides to pursue a mandatory ban, it would take the state at least three months to approve one, Alan Rathbun, director of licensing for the Liquor Control Board, told the newspaper in March. The state must notify retailers and distributors and conduct a public hearing.

There are mandatory Alcohol Impact Areas in Seattle, Spokane and Tacoma. Vancouver has been successful with a voluntary ban.

Olympia is hoping to replicate the success of Tacoma, which has two Alcohol Impact Areas that have been effective, studies show.

The central Tacoma ban, covering about 6 acres in the city’s urban core, was responsible for a 35 percent drop in emergency medical services incidents, a 21 percent drop in detox admissions, and a 61 percent drop in “liquor in the park” police service calls, according to a 2003 Washington State University study. People living in the area reported feeling safer, seeing fewer public drinkers, and seeing less trash and litter.

In the Lincoln District ban, Tacoma Fire Department statistics show that alcohol-related responses dropped to 175 from 321, comparing the period of October 2010 to September 2011 with the same period three years earlier.

Wilson said the program alone won’t solve downtown Olympia’s ills. The city also has worked with bars to prevent over-serving patrons and spruced-up public places such as the city’s artesian well.

“The way that I view the Alcohol Impact Area is that it’s just one piece of the downtown project,” Wilson said. “It’s not a silver-bullet program.”

mbatcheldor@ 360-704-6869 @MattBatcheldor

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