Metro Louisville’s revitalization efforts in downtown and West Louisville have heightened concerns about the high concentration of liquor stores and other businesses selling alcohol in those communities. Russell and Smoketown residents have become particularly active in their opposition to more of these kinds of establishments coming to their neighborhoods.
“You have an inundation of places where you can get packaged alcohol or hard liquor, even wine in these areas. We are not talking restaurants; we are talking gas stations and liquor stores. You even have liquor stores opening up around gas stations that sell beer. It feels like exploitation on different levels,” said Rev. David Snardon of Joshua Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church.
Snardon and a community activist, Jackie Floyd, hosted a public meeting at his church in October to discuss the application for a new liquor store at 1821 W. Broadway.
The building’s owner, Maya Russell, attended the meeting to lobby for the project although the request for a liquor license was actually made by Mindy Gatton, the mother of Russell’s child. Russell explained that the new store would be a high-end wine and spirits store similar to something that would be found in the Highlands. However, residents encouraged him to invest in something more beneficial to the community like a restaurant or a grocery store.
After Russell dismissed those suggestions, Floyd organized a letter-writing campaign to oppose the application for a liquor license. On Nov. 28, the Louisville/Jefferson County Alcohol and Beverage Control Administrator denied Gatton’s application, citing both the community’s opposition and the fact that there are already 31 ABC-licensed establishments within one mile of the proposed store. Code and Regulations spokesman Will Ford told the Insider “there is a not a regulation that requires a certain amount of distance between establishments with ABC licenses.”
Russell already operates a barbershop in his Broadway building. In an interview a few days after Gatton received the ABC decision, the businessman said the majority of liquor stores near his building were owned by people who did not even live in the community. He believes the crusade against retailers seeking new liquor licenses will hamper economic development by discouraging African-American entrepreneurs to invest in their communities.
“The whole experience was a fiasco,” he said, adding, Gatton “spent a lot of time and money on that project. We had support from most of the businesses around us. The neighborhood is saturated with liquor stores, but one of the places they cited closed a while ago. If one store closes and another one opens, you are not adding to the number of liquor stores,” Russell said.
Gatton is planning to appeal the license denial to the state ABC Board in Frankfort.
Floyd pointed out that the location of the proposed liquor store is directly across the street from the site where Passport Health Plan intends to build a new headquarters and health care campus. A new YMCA complex will also be located nearby.
“We are revitalizing Russell physically, but for this to be a safe, healthy and thriving community we need to change some of the negative aspects. In the West End, even the Dollar stores sell beer. There are liquor stores near day cares and treatment centers. Most of these places have no security, and you see people loitering outside at all times of the day. We can’t accept that anymore,” she explained.
Last year, the city won a nearly $30 million grant from U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to revitalize the Russell neighborhood, which is located between Market Street and Broadway from Ninth to 31st streets. Metro government has also earmarked $175,000 to create an arts, culture and commercial district in the area. Floyd, who recently helped to found the Russell Neighborhood Association, wants development that fits into this vision. She is not opposed to new liquor licenses for restaurants or nightclubs, but her group plans to oppose fight new requests for package liquor licenses.
“We are exploring all of our options. Something has to change,” she added. “We tell our kids, ‘Don’t do drugs, don’t drink and drive.’ But are we being role models for them by continuing to allow liquor stores and places that sell beer to open up?”
Liquor stores proliferate in low-income communities because the residents are usually not well-organized, research shows. A study conducted by the John Hopkins School of Public Health in 2000 found “an intersection of race and income status that places low-income African-American communities at greater risk for alcohol availability through off-premises liquor stores. Such stores have been shown to be an important component of the social infrastructure that destabilizes communities.”
According to that study, alcohol companies are also more likely to advertise potent beverages like malt liquor in poor and minority community. This easy access to alcohol contributes to high rates of crime and violence.
African-American activists in Louisville have understood this for a long time, but fighting alcohol sales is difficult in a state dependent on the bourbon industry for tourism dollars.
Councilwoman Cheri Bryant Hamilton, D-5, tried to target specific liquor stores with a series of wet-dry votes in 2008, but the store owners challenged the votes in court and won.
Smoketown residents protested in July when two liquor stores were set to open right next to each other on the corner of Broadway and Hancock. The liquor licenses were denied at the local level, but one of the business owners filed an appeal that will be heard in Frankfort on Monday. Nachand Trabue, a fourth-generation Smoketown resident, plans to be there.
Trabue and her husband own the event space Manhattan on Broadway at 716 E. Broadway. She organized the original opposition to the two liquor stores because she didn’t believe they could make a positive contribution to Smoketown’s revitalization. That is also why she plans to keep fighting.
“I am a resident and stakeholder in this community,” she said. “We want economic development but it has to be something that is going to improve for the life of people in Smoketown. We can’t accept anything less.”