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Sunday, January 26, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Spokane

Policy denying restaurants a liquor license absurd

By Pia Hansen Columnist

The sign is big and bold and black and white, and it reads: “Beer, wine, cigarettes, grocery.” I am standing outside Hai’s market on South Perry Street. The windows are partially covered with cigarette advertising, lottery signs and beer posters.

Drinking, smoking or gambling – whatever your poison is, it is right here.

This is my neighborhood so I, too, shop at Hai’s once in a while. After the Excell grocery store closed, I found the little market a welcome addition to the business mix. Hai’s carries many kinds of beer and wine.

But you can forget about sitting down for a drink in a restaurant in this neighborhood.

Hai’s is located immediately across the street from what used to be Junebugs Café, which closed last summer partly because it couldn’t get a liquor license.

Just a block north sits the Hico gas station, flashing a light blue “Bud Light” sign over its entrance. A banner tells me I can pick up “22 oz. (beer) bottles for $1.39.”

Inside, the clerk says the store carries more than 20 kinds of beer and they expect to get more, including more flavored beers.

Leaving the store I notice a table stocked with wine.

And here I am in the heart of a neighborhood where a restaurant can’t get a liquor license. Now, that’s just plain silly.

Because Grant Elementary School is located between Hai’s and Hico, it’s impossible to get a serving license anywhere in the South Perry Business District.

A temporary permit for a beer garden is possible, but that’s it.

Spokane Public Schools will, according to its prevention of substance abuse policy, object to applications for liquor licenses where drinks will be served within 500 feet of any school’s main entrance.

I’m all for substance abuse prevention.

I understand that part of the argument against serving alcohol near schools is that kids shouldn’t be exposed to drunks, and drunken driving could increase in an area where children are frequently present.

However, denying neighborhood restaurants the ability to serve a glass of wine with dinner has nothing to do with safety or substance abuse prevention, and it’s hurting the neighborhood business community at the same time.

Think of it this way: If you are under the legal drinking age and want beer, are you most likely to try to get it at a restaurant or a neighborhood store?

I’ve asked around and the answer is the same: the store.

As a parent of a teenager, I’m a heck of a lot more worried about a store that peddles 20 kinds of beer, just steps from the school crosswalk, than I would be about a neighborhood restaurant offering three beers on tap and a half-decent merlot by the glass.

I’m not saying these two stores are selling to underage individuals, but that’s where teens would try to get a drink if they wanted one.

The first time I visited the South Perry Neighborhood was about March of ‘94, when a friend took me to the Black Forest Deli for lunch. Drug deals were going down outside as we ate. New to Spokane at the time, I left thinking that I’d never live in that area.

But things began to change for the better; for a while there it looked like a full-blown revival was taking place, yet today things have stalled.

There’s a new restaurant in the old Black Forest Deli location, which serves breakfast and lunch but no dinner, and that’s probably a smart choice for now. The restaurant owners I’ve talked to all say there’s no serving dinner without alcohol – you just can’t make it.

Can you have dinner without alcohol? Of course you can, you can live your entire life without alcohol just fine. But what I’m saying is that a neighborhood restaurant isn’t likely to make it if it can’t serve a beer with that meatloaf sandwich.

When Junebugs closed, I called around inquiring about obtaining a liquor license for that address. There’s got to be a way, I thought, since South Perry is designated a Neighborhood Center under the city of Spokane comprehensive plan, something that should encourage small business growth.

But there’s not. School district policy is the main obstacle, and that doesn’t make any sense when you consider how readily beer and wine is available just across the street.

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