It’s time to stop more beer and wine permits from coming into the Hyatt Park-Keenan Terrace neighborhood, say residents who have spent more than a decade fighting off unwanted development. Their latest targets are a pair of small grocery stores. Former neighborhood president Ellen Triplett is leading the charge.
By Avery Wilks
March 7, 2014
Two beer-and-wine permit applications are clouding Ellen Triplett’s vision for her Hyatt Park-Keenan Terrace neighborhood.
Triplett, who has lived in the North Columbia community nearly nine years, envisions North Main Street as a vibrant shopping and entertainment destination. The former neighborhood association president sees coffee shops, bakeries, hardware stores, art studios and clothing stores, as well as visitors spending their money.
But that also means businesses like the small grocery stores on North Main and Monticello Road that want to sell beer and wine just aren’t welcome. So she’s leading the neighborhood’s attempt to block their state permits because, she said, saturating the area with stores that sell beer, wine or alcohol furthers the perception the neighborhood is “minority, low-income and uneducated” and drives away desired businesses.
Triplett said commuters bypass North Main every day on their way to the city. With the right businesses, she said, “They would be driving up North Main Street and spending their dollars in our community.”
Mike Nas, who will manage the yet-to-open Mega-Stop Pantry at 3506 N. Main St., one of the two stores under fire, said he doesn’t understand the opposition.
“The city of Columbia wants businesses on North Main Street,” said Nas, adding that his store would bolster the local economy.
Just a year ago, more than 200 people gathered at the Leroy Moss Community Center to protest construction of a low-income apartment complex in the 3700 block of North Main.
Before that were 12 years of community members banding together to stop undesirable developments in an area once “the dumping ground for anything the city didn’t want in its downtown area,” said Tommy Burkett, president of the North Columbia Business Association.
“Playing defense” against unwanted development is crucial for a community struggling to get back on its feet, said Brian Cole, economic development expert and president of Building Communities Strategic Planning in Boise, Idaho. Cole said the specialty shops Triplett wants will invest elsewhere if the neighborhood doesn’t try to influence development.
“If one of your options is a neighborhood that just looks a lot tougher than the other one, then unless you’ve got some kind of motivation to save humanity – which is noble – but unless you’re really over the top that way, you’re going to put that investment where you think the return on investment is going to be best,” Cole said.
So far, the protests have led the state Revenue Department, which regulates liquor permits, to deny both applications.
Krunal Parmar, who wants to build his Monticello One Love store at 4309 Monticello Road, said he was shocked at the protest. But Parmar, an 11‑year veteran of the grocery business, said he’ll work to make sure his store meshes with the community.
“I want to be the guy they like,” said Parmar, who plans to install surveillance cameras and “no trespassing” signs around his store to discourage loitering. “I want to be the guy that they can work with and stop all of these things.”
Nas said he was baffled the Mega-Stop Pantry’s application was denied, as the previous store at 3506 N. Main St., El Mano’s Market, sold beer and wine without protest from 2010 to 2013. Triplett said she never knew El Mano’s had a permit and would have protested its application.
Nas has opened the Mega-Stop Pantry even without the permit, but Parmar said he would have to rethink opening his business if he couldn’t sell alcohol. Both have hired lawyers and asked for an administrative law judge hearing. (PDF)
Judges’ decisions generally hinge on the suitability of the applicant – including any criminal record – and the suitability of the location, such as whether there are schools nearby, said Ken Allen, a Columbia lawyer who specializes in liquor permits.
Across the street from Mega-Stop Pantry is the Women’s Shelter, which houses women while they recover from drug and alcohol addiction.
Director Kathy Riley can see the store from the shelter’s front porch and says it threatens the well-being of the women she works to protect.
“We can’t wrap them in a bubble so that they never see a liquor store again, but to me, to have that in such a close proximity to us – we have grave concerns about it,” Riley said.
Though Burkett has worked to keep out unwanted businesses for over a decade, he says selling alcohol shouldn’t be the barrier.
“If he’s going to be legitimate, he needs the chance to open the business,” Burkett said.
Hear Ellen Triplett talk about what could happen if the community doesn’t protect itself.
Listen to Triplett talk about the neighborhood’s struggle to attract desired development.
Hear Kathy Riley talk about why the community doesn’t want or need another store that sells beer and wine.
Listen to Kathy Riley talk about the threat the Mega-Stop Pantry’s beer and wine license application poses to her work at the Women’s Shelter.
But City Councilman Sam Davis supports the neighborhood, saying the proliferation of convenience stores hasn’t helped its commercial appearance.
“A good business-minded person won’t go where they’re not wanted,” said Davis, who plans on speaking at the Monticello One Love appeal.
He said he’s optimistic the area will begin fielding offers for the kind of development it wants by the year’s end. Businesses are already targeting North Main, Davis said, adding that the North Main streetscaping project and the community’s efforts to protect its image have made the area a viable development destination.Until then, Triplett will work to protect her vision for Hyatt Park-Keenan Terrace.
“There’s so many wonderful things that could be here,” Triplett said. “Let’s not fill it up with stuff that detracts.”