Salt Lake City Councilwoman Florence Bittner wants to close two downtown liquor stores near a soon-to-be-open homeless shelter because she says the outlets aggravate problems created by the homeless.
"There should not be any liquor stores within walking distance of a transient shelter," Bittner said while on a tour this week of a plasma donor center a resident says is the source of transient disturbances.But state alcohol control officials say, while they are open to a recommendation from Bittner, closing the stores would only export alcohol abuse problems to other cities in the Salt Lake Valley and beyond.
"Where it ends, I don't know; it may have to end in St. George," said Dennis Kellen, operations manager for the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Department.
"We have tried for years to get the liquor commission to close the store," Bittner said, adding the stores at 205 W. Fourth South and 54 N. Eighth West are in bad locations because of the density of homeless in the area.
The city is building a family and men's homeless shelter at 210 Rio Grande St., expected to open in November. Hundreds of homeless people are in the downtown area, and many of them congregate near services offered near the new shelter.
The city is trying to address the homeless problem, Bittner said, but the presence of the liquor stores, operated by the state, "exacerbates the problem."
"It just isn't very good sense for one part of government to solve a problem created by another part of government," she said.
But the proposal is unrealistic because the liquor stores serve other sectors of the city's population and because of the likelihood transient problems will be transported to other locations if stores are closed, Kellen said.
"We serve a large customer base at the two stores," he said. Fortified wines, a favorite among street people, account for only 5 percent of sales at the stores, indicating nearly all liquor is sold to non-transients, he said.
The Fourth South liquor store is the largest in Salt Lake City, generating more than $3 million in sales last year compared with roughly $1 million in annual sales for 1987 at a state liquor store in Holladay, Kellen said.
A four-month ban on fortified wine sales at three central city liquor stores, including the two Bittner wants closed, shows that many transients are driving or taking buses to buy fortified wine at other stores, Kellen said.
Fortified wine is strengthened with potent grain alcohol and sells for less than $2 a fifth.
A like scenario could occur if the downtown stores were closed, he said.
The liquor commission and citizens board is open to the proposal, however, Kellen said.
"If the city wants to make a recommendation to the liquor commission to close down one or both of the downtown liquor stores, I'm sure the liquor commission would listen to the proposal," he said.