Changes proposed for liquor package store alcohol sales
By Megan Gannon
Nome could see some actions intended to curb hard liquor sales if the package stores and the City can come to an agreement over the next few months.
Prompted by renewed public debate about how to alleviate alcohol abuse on Front Street, the Alaska Commercial Company’s management has proposed five new policies that it would be willing to institute in Nome if Hanson’s, the other package store liquor license holder, also gets on board.
Under the proposed conditions, package liquor stores would be closed on Sundays and would limit the sale of alcohol to containers no larger than 750 ml, excluding beer and wine. People would not be able to buy more than one liquor container in Nome per day. The stores would share their list of banned purchasers with each other at least once a week, and they would restrict sales to runners who supply alcohol to banned buyers.
Jeff Cichosz, AC’s Anchorage-based director of sales and operations, presented that list of proposed changes as Alaska’s Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office visited Nome this week to hold its quarterly board meetings.
As part of its regular business, AMCO’s Alcoholic Beverage Control board was considering the renewal of the liquor license for the AC’s Quick Stop on Front Street. AMCO, which issues liquor licenses statewide, had invited the City of Nome last fall to comment on this renewal application, which sparked lengthy public debates, as the Quick Stop is seen as a central node in Nome’s very visible alcoholic problem.
In January, the public gave testimony in front of the Nome Common Council during a five-hour long marathon meeting, but an attempt to pass an ordinance that would curb hard liquor sales through package stores failed in the first reading in March.
In lieu of a new ordinance, the City requested new conditions to be imposed under the liquor licenses for the package stores that both license-holders would agree upon. The list of conditions AC presented included almost all the policies the City requested; AC left off the mandate for security personnel and added the condition that liquor stores would be closed on Sundays.
“There’s no easy solution, but we came up with these conditions that will hopefully help ease a little bit of it,” Cichosz said. He added that AC previously had instituted a policy to close liquor stores on Sundays in Bethel which essentially amounted to giving the police department a day off.
Though some might have hoped for those policies to be instituted soon, Hanson’s management claimed they only heard about the new list of conditions last week and they were not ready to make an agreement. With no resolution, the ABC board on Tuesday tabled the discussion of those changes until its next meeting place in September.
On Monday afternoon, the ABC board members listened to several hours of impassioned public testimony as Nomeites described the difficulties they face in looking for solutions to the community’s alcohol problem.
Several people brought up the fact that Nome no longer has a residential in-patient treatment center for alcoholism. That lack makes getting help and breaking the cycle of substance abuse very difficult, even though there are resources like the day shelter. “The culture really doesn’t like to see their loved ones going to Oregon or going to Seattle, they want to see them stay in region,” said Paul Kosto, executive director for the Chamber of Commerce who came to Nome 20 years ago as a state trooper.
Emergency responders outlined the strain on the city’s limited resources. Rose Reale Gray, one of just two paid employees in Nome’s EMS department, said the number of volunteers in the ambulance department has been dwindling “as we have over the past many years began to feel a certain burnout in terms of responding to calls pertaining to alcohol and alcohol use.”
Nome’s Deputy Chief of Police Robert Pruckner presented statistics showing the high volume of calls they receive—more than 1,000 each year—for incidents within 100 yards around the Quick Stop. Of the total calls for emergency and police response for all of Nome, between 27 percent and 37 percent of those incidents have been alcohol related in the last three years.
Chuck Fagerstrom called the current situation “demoralizing” and said that AC and Hanson’s “should be ashamed of themselves.” Fagerstrom had been advocating for city-run liquor stores, although the AMCO leadership was not sure it would be legally possibly under state law.
“I’d like to know just how much they make each year with no concern about the welfare of our people,” Fagerstrom said.
Package store liquor licenses in Nome used to be held by mom-and-pop operations, said Councilman Scot Henderson. Now they are held by “two well-funded, well organized, well-run businesses that are competing for that space.”
Hanson’s is part of Carrs-Safeway, which is a subsidiary of Albertsons, one of the biggest grocery retailers in the U.S.
Alaska Commercial is part of the multinational NorthWest Company, headquartered in Canada.
The liquor stores are “doing what businesses are supposed to do,” Henderson said. “There’s a demand and they’re trying to serve that demand. But I think the difference in Nome is the sheer quantity. And the sheer supply of alcohol in this community is exponentially higher than it was 10 or 15 years ago. That’s part of the problem.”
Nome’s City Manager Glenn Steckman said he never objects to a business making money. “That’s how a community like this has to be successful,” he said. “But there’s got to be more of a partnership.”
Mayor John Handeland said that Nome’s reputation as a “Wild West type of community when it came to alcohol” has been changing. However, he said he had heard objections from some people who did not want their ability to buy alcohol curbed because of concerns associated with a small percentage of the population, and he didn’t want to disenfranchise people who couldn’t just call up Brown Jug to place a personal order.
Dana Walukiewicz, chair of the ABC board, explained that there were limits to what they could do if AC and Hanson’s were not breaking any laws or ordinances.
“This board is a licensing board,” said Walukiewicz. “And the actions that we can take are to deny renewal of a license, we can revoke a license, but generally that is in cases in which there’s repeat violations of regulations or statutes.”
Walukiewicz said that in most other cases, their hands are tied.
“That’s why we like to work with the local councils, local jurisdictions to find ways in which ordinances can be developed because then we can find we can use our enforcement branch to ensure that those ordinances are upheld,” he said.
AC and Hanson’s senior management did appear interested in finding a voluntary solution in partnership with the City of Nome when they spoke during the board meeting on Tuesday. Hanson’s executive team, however, felt they were “caught flat-footed” after only becoming aware of the new conditions last week, Kevin Reed, a vice president from Albertsons, claimed.
The board offered to pick up the issue again at its next meeting in September so that the companies could do more research in the meantime. After further pushback from the Carrs-Safeway/Albertsons management about that timeline, Walukiewicz said, “This is not a new issue in Nome.”
“Certainly you’ve done your due diligence in understanding the issues with Nome, and this is not something that has just sprung up over the last year or so,” Walukiewicz. “This is an opportunity for you guys to sit down and come to a meaningful agreement.”