This post has been updated.
The campaign to end the concentration of liquor stores in Louisville’s disadvantaged communities gained momentum Wednesday at a rally in front of the Smoketown historic marker. The motivation for the gathering was to show opposition to two proposed liquor stores at the intersection of Hancock and Broadway, but community activists from other neighborhoods showed up to make it clear the problem extends beyond Smoketown’s boundaries.
“The reason you see so many liquor stores in poor neighborhoods is the same reason you see crack houses. They are taking advantage of a high index of misery; people just want to escape reality. I’m not saying that’s the intent of the businessmen who want to open these new stores, but that will be the unintended outcome,” said F. Bruce Williams, Pastor of Bates Memorial Baptist Church.
The rally was organized by one of Williams’ parishioners — Nachand “Nay” Trabue, who operates the venue Manhattan on Broadway with her husband, Carlos. Trabue believes adding more liquor stores in Smoketown will hamper public and private efforts to redevelopment the community.
“Smoketown has a rich history and it’s in the middle of a revival. We want businesses, but we cannot just accept any business. If you want to be part of the Smoketown family, you have to work with the community to create a business that residents want. We are fighting for a better future,” she said.
East Coast Liquors, 535 E. Broadway, and A-Z Liquors, 540 E. Gray St., sit across an alley from each other at the dividing line between Smoketown and the Phoenix Hill neighborhood. Trabue learned about the proposed stores in July after the owners put up signs. She said the community had no knowledge of the owners’ plans until then, but she immediately organized her neighborhood to stop them from opening.
The Louisville/Jefferson County Alcohol and Beverage Control Administrator denied liquor licenses to both stores this summer, but the decisions were appealed to the state ABC Board. Trabue was in Frankfort on Monday for a hearing on A-Z Liquors’ application. The owner, MSBT LLC, asked for a continuance so the company president, Alem Berhe Tella, could consider opening a neighborhood market instead of a liquor store. That hearing was rescheduled for Feb. 23, 2018.
Samir Alya, president of East Coast Liquors’ owner Mayher’s Inc., has a hearing Thursday. Trabue and a number of Smoketown community leaders intend to be in Frankfort to oppose his application, too. The appeal by East Coast Liquors was denied by the ABC Board Thursday without a hearing because the owner did not file the paperwork by the deadline. Trabue said: “I got a call from the county attorney today telling me that I didn’t have to go to Frankfort. I am beyond ecstatic that the community’s hard work is being rewarded.”
John Stone, owner of the Sound Factory on East Broadway, said the proposed liquor stores did not fit with the new mindset that had overtaken Smoketown. Stone has been in the neighborhood for 40 years and he says he believes the community is on the upswing for the first time in several decades.
“The energy is wonderful. The city is doing a great job here. We cannot afford to take steps backwards by giving out new liquor licenses. What we have to put up with in this community would not be tolerated in any other area of the city,” he added.
State Representative Attica Scott (D-41) agrees. Scott attended Wednesday’s rally and told reporters that she sent a letter to the state ABC Board opposing the applications for East Coast and A-Z.
“We need real development in Smoketown. More liquor stores will not do anything for the community,” she said.
Russell resident Jackie Floyd also spoke at the rally. Floyd recently led a successful effort to stop a liquor store from opening across from the site of the new Passport Health Plan headquarters. The building’s owner described the proposed store as a high-end winery, but Floyd told the crowd: “Even if it sells expensive wine, it’s still a liquor store. No more liquor stores in Russell or Smoketown. We have a right to safe and healthy neighborhoods.”
Longtime community activist Rhonda Mathies grew up in Smoketown but she now lives in the Shawnee neighborhood where two precincts were voted dry a decade ago. Mathies said the other areas of Shawnee were still dealing with the same issues as Smoketown and Russell.
Trabue said she did not advocate for a wet/dry vote in Smoketown, although some of her neighborhoods had discussed it as an option. She feels it might discourage positive development like a restaurant, but most of the residents seemed to agree that package liquor stores would never be welcome in Smoketown again.
“Why would you want to bring this kind of predatory business into a community that already has suffering, poverty, and health issues?” Trabue asked.