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Smoketown Had Two New Liquor Stores Coming. Now It Might Get None

Smoketown GetDown

Smoketown residents who fought the opening of two new liquor stores near their neighborhood may be getting their way.

At least one of two planned stores off East Broadway near Smoketown and Phoenix Hill will no longer come to be. East Coast Liquors, at 535 East Broadway, chose not to appeal the denial of its license to the Kentucky Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. A-Z Liquors, which would be located across an alley at 540 East Gray Street, will pursue an appeal in February. It is expected to consider shifting to opening a market instead of a liquor store.

Samir Alya, the developer of East Coast Liquors, said Thursday he is taking a big loss on the store's failure. He agreed to cancel the store in part because the building's owner, Mark Kader, freed him from the lease and will compensate him for some of what he lost.

An appeal hearing scheduled for Thursday with the Kentucky Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control has been canceled.

Alya said he hopes A-Z Liquors will not win a license. He feels that would not be fair, given that the proposed locations were so close together and so similar. He does not know yet what his next move will be.

"I’m just going to sit back and wait and see what happens," Alya said. "I am going to keep going."

Alya said he plans to have the East Coast Liquors sign removed from the building soon, though he declined to share exactly when.

Kader, the building's owner, said he wants to try to bring a Waffle House to the location. That would offer some employment opportunities and a new breakfast option to the area. Kader also owns the BP gas station at 601 East Broadway.

"I think we need a fast restaurant like Waffle House in the area because a lot of people ask on Sundays and Saturdays ... where is the closest place to find breakfast," Kader said. "I'm thinking that that's what I'm going to try to pursue now, opening a restaurant in it, which shouldn't be a problem."

Nachand Trabue was a leading voice in the community effort to fight the opening of the new liquor stores. She is a former Smoketown resident and the event venue she owns, Manhattan on Broadway, is in the neighborhood.

She said Smoketown needs businesses such as grocery stores and sit-down restaurants, not more liquor stores. The neighborhood already struggles with issues of crime, poverty and violence. Alcohol only adds to the mix, she said.

Trabue described developers seeking to open liquor stores in Smoketown as predators. She plans to celebrate the demise of East Coast Liquors with a victory party next week.

She said she hopes the owners of A-Z Liquors will work with community members to create a retail outlet that serves their needs.

"If you got the backing of a community then your doors are going to stay open," Trabue said. "If you don't have the backing of the community, your doors are going to close. It's just simple as that."

Although she is happy with where things are headed, Trabue said she wants to learn more about the laws that allowed two liquor stores to potentially be located so close together. She thinks there may be an opportunity to fight for legislative change in this regard.

In the meantime, Trabue hopes to see fewer liquor stores, not just in Smoketown but also in west end neighborhoods such as Russell. She said adding alcohol to already struggling areas makes the problems there worse.

"Trying to break the cycle," she said. "Trying to break the cycle by helping to close one liquor store at a time."

Amina Elahi is LPM's City Editor. Email Amina at aelahi@lpm.org.