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5 Corners Mini Mart gets new signs, many in community continue to petition

March 8th, 2010 by Thea

Over the last week many in Queen Anne have taken a position concerning a new neighborhood business slated to open its door at the top of the hill next week. The new 5 Corners Mini Mart at 309 W McGraw St. has been mired in controversy since it unveiled signs in the windows advertising the sale of “discount cigarette” and “beer and wine” last week, immediately sparking debate among concerned community members, parents and business owners.

A number of Queen Anne residents argue that the store’s products will draw undesirable customers, increasing crime in the neighborhood and negatively influencing neighborhood kids. Some have started a petition to ban the 5 Corners’ liquor license application with the state on the grounds that it presents a general public safety risk. Others disagree wholeheartedly, noting that Ken’s Market just down the street, 7-Eleven on Queen Anne Ave N, and even a handful of local coffee shops sell alcohol and wine with absolutely no problems at all.

Last Wednesday an estimated 50 people packed into the most recent Queen Anne Community Council meeting to voice their opinions on the new business and discuss concerns with Nicon-McGraw building owner John Nicon and 5 Corners owner Steve Park, taking up half of the monthly meeting time.

“This is the most people that we’ve had at a meeting since I’ve been on the council,” said QACC councilmember Michael Lapin. “It’s one of those once every five years issues that get people to the meeting.”

At Wednesday’s meeting Park made strides to compromise with concerned community members, signing a document promising that he would not sell fortified beer and wine, which has a higher alcohol content, that many believe would draw the “chronically inebriated” to the neighborhood.

I spoke with Park at 5 Corners yesterday just before the signs in the window were replaced to read “Organic Ice Cream,” “Grocery and Beverages,” and “Organic Coffee.” Although Park admitted to being surprised by the reaction the community has had, he said he changed the sign in an effort to appease concerns and show the community that his store will be a “friendly neighborhood grocery.”

“You’ve got to respect the neighborhood,” he said. “I could understand their concern…it wasn’t their choice to tear the sign down. I said, ‘OK, if that signage is giving too much exposure, I’ll take it down.’ I did it for the kids.”

Still, although Park assured community members that he would not sell fortified alcohol or pornographic magazines at the meeting, the opposition has continued to mount.

Hilltop Yarn owner Jennifer Hill was one of the community members who attended Wednesdays’ meeting. An active member of the Upper Queen Anne Merchants Association, Hill said she stayed neutral on the issue of the mini mart during the discussion, focusing instead on a longtime issue among local business owners–what she calls “a very slow uptick in homelessness, vagrancy and chronic inebriation” in the neighborhood business district.

“As business owners, it’s a problem on two standpoints. From the human standpoint, when we see someone lying on the side of the road, that’s wrong and something should be done. From a public safety aspect, when people are being hassled in front of businesses, they don’t want to shop,” she said.

As a result Hill and the UQAMA are working on a project “to ask that any store in Queen Anne volunteer for a ban of fortified wine is liquor.”

Though Park gave his word to this point, re-branded his store with a more community-oriented feel, and emphasized that his store would focus on general groceries and not just alcohol and tobacco products, for many, his promise wasn’t enough. The petition flier (.pdf) asking the Washington State Liquor Control Board to deny the 5 Corners’ liquor license application cites the following in support of their argument,

While many community members welcomed the occupancy of a presently vacant storefront, as well as the efforts of an entrepreneur to succeed in the community, the majority of those present resisted the owner’s plan to sell beer, wine and cigarettes at lower cost (and later hours) than nearby establishments like Ken’s Market. While Mr. Pack vowed not to sell fortified wine and alcohol, there is nothing to prevent such sales if a liquor license is obtained. Stores that sell those products are magnets for the chronically inebriated.

Concerns cited include:

  • The store is adjacent to school bus stops and within 500’ of a preschool (Alcuin on Crockett)
  • The proposed hours (to 11 pm on Friday and Saturday) do not complement a residential neighborhood
  • There is no parking provided for customers or delivery vehicles in an already congested area
  • Sales of “to go” alcohol are statistically proven to correlate with crime (http://bit.ly/boozecrime)
  • Queen Anne is already saturated with opportunities to buy alcohol at all hours
  • The store is adjacent to Queen Anne Helpline, which serves clients with addiction issues

This reaction has surprised many community members, who feel that Park and the 5 Corners are being unfairly targeted.

One reader wrote in our comments,

If they’re really concerned about alcohol and cigarette sales than they should target Ken’s Market just a stones throw west. Have you ever seen the shelf space that store dedicates to booze!!?? There are miles of it! What sort of “message” are they sending?

Or is it OK at Ken’s because they also sell overpriced, organic crap that yuppies love?

How about Bustle? They just opened within the last year and one of the first things I noticed was a huge placard placed DIRECTLY ON THE SIDEWALK advertising wine and “premium beers” for sale. The kids HAVE TO LITERALLY WALK AROUND that sign every single day and it’s literally kitty corner from Coe Elementary.

Nycoug wrote,

I think instead of boycotting this store people should be embracing it. I for one would rather give my money to the local guy trying to make it in this economy than a corporate owned store. Shame shame! I wish them nothing but luck! Some welcome to the neighborhood committee you people are!

Although Park said he understands the concern, he doesn’t see how his store, which he said will be open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, is any different from the many other shops selling alcohol and cigarettes, among other items, in the neighborhood.

“I don’t see any bums standing in front of Ken’s Market. Why would they stand in from of my store?” he said.

Park said that though his store will sell unfortified wine and beer, assuming the liquor license is granted, and cigarettes, that will not be its focus by any means. His plan is to turn the 5 Corners into a general convenience store carrying products that would appeal to the surrounding neighborhood–everything from organic ice cream and coffee, as the new signs display, to milk, basic groceries and a bakery section stocked with fresh Asian baked goods brought in every morning.

“I don’t’ know if the neighborhood will like it or not,” he said. “I’m trying to bring a little bit of everything.”

Still, some have held on to their first impressions of the store’s aesthetics, complaining that the storefront is too “garish” for the hill, doesn’t fit in, and fails to offer anything that can’t be bought elsewhere. One reader wrote,

I am opposed to this store based solely on their signage: “Discount Cigarette, Beer, Wine”. Too many of these stores focus on selling fortified wine and beer, and become magnets for crime, graffiti, noise and other problems. No neighborhood wants more of that.

There are too many families with kids, and schools nearby. Stores like these are just looking to make easy money on high margin items like alcohol and cigarettes, and offer little benefit to the community; in fact the impact is often negative.

Besides, there is little or no market here for what they’ll be selling.

Another wrote,

I object to the store based purely on the look and type of store. I classify it together with the Pizza Hut on Mcgraw & Queen Anne Ave and the 711 on Queen Anne Ave. All three stores are undesirable for the hill and arguably go against the kind of retail presence we want in Queen Anne.

However, since the location is zoned commercial, the owners have the right to lease the space to whomever they choose. On the other hand, you, as a Queen Anne resident, have the right to boycott the store. If enough local residents choose this course of action, the store will eventually be forced to close.

“I think there are still a bunch of people that would rather have an empty storefront there than anything else because that’s the kind of people some people are,” Lapin said. As for the concern that alcohol sales will increase crime, he said “I don’t know how you can prove that since you can walk three blocks away and get your alcohol at Safeway or Ken’s Market, or Bustle.”

After meeting Park on Wednesday, Hill said, “He is a charming, gracious fellow and I think would be a valuable asset to the Queen Anne business community.”

Hill believes the issue is not so much the market itself, but the outcry at Wednesday’s meeting and the aggressive discussion and name-calling that has ensued, notably in the comments here (this story has received more comments than any other on QueenAnneView). She said her aim was to “calm some of the more extreme neighborhood reactions on both sides.”

“I think people are unfortunately not taking the time to understand what the concerns are,” she said. “Not a single person that I heard who expressed an issue with the mini mart is an elitist, a snob, a self-absorbed NIMBY. I’ve been called all of those things–even racist and classist. I found this really offensive. We’re not any of those things. We care…I think it’s an important issue for our entire community.”

Hill was not alone in her opinion. One anonymous commenter remarked at how ashamed he was to see the community get so heated over the issue,

I am ashamed. I really can’t believe that one bad sign grew into such a huge embarrassment for me and those in my community of elitist puritanical gate keepers. I’m taking a shower right now and heading over there to heal what should be an encouraging handshake and sincere thank you.

As for the argument that some have that the store does not represent the family friendly values of the surrounding community, JT28880 wrote,

There are a lot of other people that live on QA that don’t have children and wouldn’t mind having a close place to go and buy needed goods. As long as they obey the laws and don’t become a public nuisance they should be able to operate a business.

If you want your cookie cutter neighborhoods go to the eastside. Let’s make the area great for everyone not just familes.

Park has expressed a desire to serve the wants and needs of the Queen Anne community for the long term. A family man himself (Park has two daughters), he said he’s planning on moving his family to the neighborhood after the store opens.

“I’m going to be a part of the Queen Anne community too. I don’t want to tear down the neighborhood,” he said.

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