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Fairview liquor stores under pressure to address public drunkenness

Devin Kelly
The Oaken Keg at Carrs Safeway liquor store on Gambell Street on Saturday, February 15, 2014.
Bob Hallinen
The Spirits of Alaska liquor stores on Gambell Street on Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014.
Bob Hallinen

Under fire from community members, two liquor stores in Fairview have agreed to take action to more tightly regulate alcohol sales near a notorious Gambell Street intersection.

The Oaken Keg at Carrs/Safeway and Spirits of Alaska are about 500 feet apart on Gambell, a sometimes-troublesome corridor with a high volume of police response. Around the intersection at 13th Avenue and Gambell, where Anchorage police received more than 2,000 calls for service within a 370-foot radius between 2012 and 2013, property owners and community members say they are increasingly frustrated by the impact of an unsavory reputation fueled by gatherings of street inebriates.

"The unchecked inebriate issue in Fairview is having a disastrous effect on the business climate, and it won't be long before the effects are felt elsewhere in Anchorage," Patrick Krochina, who owns the Nvision Architecture building at 13th and Gambell, told the Anchorage Assembly last week.

On Thursday, the Fairview Community Council approved a resolution to work with the two liquor stores and the Anchorage Police Department on ways to "prevent the sale of alcohol to certain chronic public inebriates." Within the next six weeks, the three parties will develop strategies and figure out methods for gauging how well those strategies are working, according to the resolution.

Other aspects of the resolution include revising existing conditional use permits and potentially amending municipal code regarding land use.

A full action plan is supposed to be devised and implemented by April 1; both liquor stores' licenses are up for review in December. If the community council decides a store has failed to cooperate, it will seek to revoke or deny the renewal of its liquor license, according to the resolution.

This is not the first time the community has pressured Fairview's liquor stores to make changes. But the latest approach may be the most rigorous and systematic to date, said Allen Kemplen, a longtime Fairview Community Council member who previously served as president.

Long-simmering tensions surrounding Gambell Street boiled last fall when Krochina and another Fairview property owner proposed a community council resolution that advocated for the closure of the neighborhood liquor stores. The resolution also opposed the renewal of liquor licenses to businesses that serve alcohol in Fairview.

It was a strong stance, and led into a series of meetings among members of the council's executive board, the two liquor stores and officers with the Anchorage Police Department's Community Action Policing team. In one such meeting, on Jan. 14, two APD officers described various issues relating to the liquor stores in Fairview, particularly relating to the sale of alcohol to inebriates, according to a report from the Fairview council's public safety committee chair.

APD had video evidence documenting instances of both liquor stores selling to people who were intoxicated, according to the report.

"They commented it appears there is no control over who is being sold to," the committee chair, Sharon Chamard, wrote in the report.

APD Officer Araceli Jones, who patrols in Fairview, said that while police don't keep track of the numbers, police observations and videotape taken over a three-month span in 2013 found numerous instances of intoxicated people being sold alcohol.

In 2009, Oaken Keg received a notice of violation for selling alcohol to a drunk person, said Robert Beasley, enforcement unit supervisor with the state Alcoholic Beverage Control board. Spirits of Alaska received a similar notice in 2010.

No evidence existed that the alcohol was being brought into Fairview from other parts of town, according to Charmard's report.

Rob Backus, a Carrs/Safeway representative present at the meeting, asked if the council would be receptive to a six-month improvement plan. The council members, Chamard and president S.J. Klein, agreed, according to the report, a signal of the more collaborative approach ultimately adopted by the council.

Two weeks later, in a Jan. 31 meeting, the two stores reported a series of immediate changes. Backus, of Carrs/Safeway, said that officials had met with store management and staff and retrained them on the process of avoiding selling alcohol to someone who is intoxicated, Chamard's report said.

Backus also said the store was ramping up security, alphabetizing a list of trespassers and focusing on watching groups that congregate outside and send in a sober person to buy alcohol, the report stated.

Thompson, of Spirits of Alaska, said she planned to replace and add security cameras and improve the lighting around the store, and create a process for checking both sides of the building every 15 minutes, according to the report. She said she fired one employee and was planning to hold a staff meeting to look at the surveillance footage taken by APD, as well as ask her staff to hone in on assessing a customer's sobriety.

Thompson also said she would like Anchorage police to hold training with her staff, and plans to start re-start communication with the Oaken Keg about identifying certain intoxicated people who are trying to buy alcohol, Chamard's report said.

At last week's community council meeting, Thompson voted against the resolution, but told the council she wasn't intending to be uncooperative.

"I believe it's premature until we even come up with a plan or tried any of the actions," Thompson, who has owned the business since 1996, told the council.

Chamard said that overall, she was pleased so far with the liquor stores' response.

"I hope we can have a solution that works for them and also addresses the concerns of the community members that brought this issue to the fore," Chamard said.

Those who are fed up were hoping for more decisive action. Krochina, of Nvision Architecture, said in his Assembly address last week that he has spent the last six years talking to various community organizations and officials about the problems.

"All assure me we are working on the problem, and it just takes time," Krochina said. "I'm out of time. I lost two-thirds of my tenants directly due to this problem, and I may lose the building because of the alcohol activity at 13th and Gambell."

In an interview, Krochina said he knows a janitor who lives on Gambell Street near the bus stop, calls police about disturbances and has been harassed by belligerent people. And he said that in his view, the liquor stores have failed to follow through on promises to better regulate sales of alcohol.

Dan Loring, who has lived in Fairview for two decades and is a longtime member of the community council, said he thought the effort was a good one, but he also has his doubts.

"I believe we'll be here in the near future talking about this same situation as we have for years and years," Loring said at the meeting. "I'm going to support it but I ask we keep their feet to the fire."

Reach Devin Kelly at dkelly@adn.com or 257-4314.

 

ADN 'State of Intoxication' series
By DEVIN KELLY
dkelly@adn.com