West Allis — West Allis would like to get rid of liquor stores in its downtown but a proposal to prevent new liquor stores from moving in stopped short last week.
The problem was that city officials don't want to stop businesses from locating downtown just because they want to sell liquor on the side.
The Common Council Safety and Development Committee decided it needed more information after the question of whether a desirable business such as the West Allis Cheese and Sausage Shoppe that also sells wine would be prevented from moving into downtown by the liquor store ban the council is considering.
The reason for proposing a ban on liquor stores downtown, which was specified as Greenfield Avenue between 70th and 76th streets, is not the stores themselves but their patrons, said Ald. Marty Weigel, who proposed the ban.
Even at well-run liquor stores, customers buy single bottles of liquor and consume them in public, which is not allowed, Weigel said. With the city trying to upgrade downtown, Weigel said, "We're trying to reach, not settle."
"This is bringing in the wrong element," agreed Ald. Cathy Probst at the committee consideration. Both Weigel and Probst represent the downtown.
West Allis Liquor and Tobacco at South 72nd Street, the only liquor store downtown, would not be affected by the proposed ban, Weigel said. But it would keep others from coming in and there is interest in that.
Patrick Schloss, community development manager, said an inquiry came in only recently about establishing another liquor store at South 71st and West Greenfield Avenue.
The proposed ban on new liquor stores downtown will likely come up for a vote Tuesday, May 20.
While the city already bans second-hand retail stores downtown, Ald. Vince Vitale said banning liquor stores may go too far. If a liquor store moves in and improves a building that has been vacant for a long time as some have, that's a win for the city, he said.
"I'm afraid of blight," Vitale said.
The downtown Business Improvement District is officially neutral on the proposed ban, but Probst said several business owners will say privately that they favor it.
Complicating the issue is that the owner of the Super Bottle and Tobacco Depot, 1357 S. 76th St., just over the border from downtown has already bought the building across the street that is in the downtown. He planned to move into the building that used to house the Old Owl Imports and add groceries and perhaps a deli, owner Omer Audi said at a public hearing on the ban last week.
Audi said he even checked with the city in November asking whether liquor stores are allowed and was told they were.
"I'm kind of disappointed that this law came forward," Audi said.
He has been at his current location for five years.
Vitale argued in Audi's favor, saying that Audi only wants to move across the street which would put him just on the edge of the downtown, although across the street from City Hall.
"What difference does it make?" Vitale said.
There was some support for grandfathering Super Bottle in at its new location, but the city can't do that because Audi has not submitted an application, said city attorney Scott Post. Earlier this year, the council passed a temporary moratorium on requests for liquor licenses downtown. The moratorium will end in late June.
WHAT: Safety and Development Committee and Common Council consideration of banning new liquor stores downtown
WHEN: 7 p.m. Tuesday, May 20
WHERE: West Allis City Hall, 7525 W. Greenfield Ave.
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