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Liquor sales restricted in downtown Spokane

Boundaries of the area in which 32 low-cost, high-alcohol content beers and wines will no longer be sold for off-premises use.
Boundaries of the area in which 32 low-cost, high-alcohol content beers and wines will no longer be sold for off-premises use.

Impact zone targets public intoxication

Thirty-two low-cost, high-alcohol beers and wines can no longer be sold in downtown Spokane beginning May 15.

The state Liquor Control Board Wednesday approved a Spokane city request to establish an alcohol impact area along a broad section of downtown.

Liquor licensees and the area’s single liquor store will be prevented from selling cheap high-octane products for off-premise consumption.

The action comes after adoption of an ordinance by the Spokane City Council last December creating the impact zone and seeking liquor board approval.

The City Council at the time said that only seven of 32 licensees in the zone had complied with voluntary efforts to not sell fortified beer and wine.

Mayor Mary Verner said Wednesday that action will be a boost to the city’s core.

“We had some success at the beginning, but gradually the participation became less consistent and we had some who just flagrantly refused to participate,” she said. “Having the sales of those fortified ales and beers in the large containers was a huge detriment to multiple efforts that we have going on downtown.”

The restricted area spans from Cannon Street in Browne’s Addition to Scott Street in east Spokane. The north boundary is Spokane Falls Boulevard; the south edge along Fifth Avenue.

Alan Rathbun, director of licensing and regulation for the board, said that the problem in Spokane was similar to a recent experience in Tacoma’s Lincoln District, where an impact zone has resulted in a strengthening of neighborhood bonds.

He said banning the cheap, higher-alcohol products to “chronic public inebriants” might result in a greater sense of safety for the wider public, and that may actually benefit the restricted merchants by bringing more business to the downtown area.

“I do see there is a real community effort there” to solve the problem, Rathbun said.

Victor Delgado, who works at the Divine’s Mid City convenience store at Second Avenue and Lincoln Street, said the ban could be a benefit to store owners by reducing public intoxication.

Delgado’s only concern is that those seeking the high-alcohol products could become aggressive with employees.

“Sometimes people don’t adapt to something right away, and they get aggressive,” Delgado said. “But it could be a good thing; we’ll have to wait and see.”

The city’s petition said that police and fire paramedic calls for alcohol intoxication, as well as calls for ambulance or detoxification services, have increased each year since 2003. In addition, the problem spills over to emergency room visits.

Property crimes, including theft, and panhandling by transients are also seen as associated with the alcohol sales. Local hospitals reported that the cost of treating alcohol poisoning cases was $2.2 million in 2008 with $1 million of that amount not being paid by indigent patients.

Jonathan Brunt and Sara Leaming contributed to this report.