Update: This story has been updated since it was originally published. See the bottom of the story for details.
The 5 Corners Mini Mart opened this weekend, despite the heated discussion among neighbors concerning the store since the beginning of the month.
For those of you who haven’t been following the debate, here’s a quick recap: Three weeks ago neighbors noticed signs for a new mini mart located on 3rd and McGraw that read “Grocery,” “Discount Cigarette,” and “Wine & Beer”, spurring controversy among many who took stands against the store for a number of reasons including concerns over safety (vagrancy and violent crime and its connection to alcohol sales), the late hours and lack of adequate parking not being conducive to a residential neighborhood, as well as the close proximity to a preschool and elementary/middle school bus stops.
At the March Queen Anne Community Council meeting, concerned parties voiced their complaints and 5 Corners owner Steve Park vowed not to sell pornographic materials and signed a document stating that he would not sell fortified beer and wine, which has higher alcoholic content. A few days later he changed the signs at the mini mart to read “Organic Ice Cream,” “Grocery and Beverages,” and “Organic Coffee,” and told the community that he aimed to open a store that represented their needs. Those who opposed the store began circulating a petition around the neighborhood, asking to the Washington State Liquor Control Board to deny his liquor license. The controversy got the attention of local media and was even covered on KUOW.
On Saturday, March 20 Park opened the mini mart, which as promised, sells a selection of organic coffee by the front counter, organic ice cream from Bluebird (available in pints and 8 ox cups), as well as a variety of general convenience store items including groceries and snacks, some produce (garlic, onions, potatoes bananas, applies and oranges as of Monday morning), a small Asian section and some baked goods (Park hasn’t yet found an Asian bakery to supply daily goods). There are also small sections for toiletries, housewares, and office supplies. Cigarettes are also available, which Park says he sells for less because he doesn’t mark them up as much as most stores do.
A few of the shelves are currently empty as the store’s liquor license application is still pending. According to Park, the applications is expected to be approved by the Washington State Liquor Control Board within two weeks. Regardless, Park says he stands by his promise not to sell fortified beer and wine. He is also working on the appropriate health regulations so that he may serve ice cream in the store, in addition to offering pints and cups of Bluebird.
As for the petition circulating around Queen Anne, according to Liquor License Investigator Allen Wambold, public petitions and protests from private citizens are noted in the application report, but do not alter the application process or the qualifications an applicant must meet to be granted a liquor license. Appeals and objections from the City of Seattle, or public institutions such as schools or religious bodies located within 500 feet of the application location, however, could result in a denial.
When the petition was originally composed, it cited the mini mart’s proximity to a Queen Anne Helpline office, located a few doors down, as one argument for blocking the liquor license.
On Wendesday, March 17, Attorney Michael Garner of Stokes Lawrence sent a letter on behalf of the Queen Anne Helpline to Michael Tasch, the author of the petition, demanding that “any and all references” to the organization “be removed from the petition itself and any materials circulating with respect to the petition.” From the letter:
The petition’s sixth bullet point states “The store is immediately adjacent to Queen Anne Helpline, which serves many clients with addiction issues.” This statement is not correct. Moreover, it may create the impression that the Queen Anne Helpline supports or does not oppose the presence of the proposed Mini Mart at that location. In fact, the Queen Anne Helpline has taken no position with respect to the proposed new business, and does not appreciate the light it has been placed in by this petition.
As a result of this letter, Tasch wrote on Thursday, March 18 in an email to local media that they would “likely take down the petition, as the prospect of a litigation campaign is not attractive.” However he also said that the group is considering alternative options, such as contacting the ACLU. He wrote,
The Helpline board is now demanding that we censor ourselves and limit our First Amendment right to petition the government. I would remind you that a person who identified themselves as a QA Helpline worker spoke against the Minimart at the March 3rd QACC meeting, and it was from this public testimony that we crafted that bullet point in our petition.
Update 3/22 9:15 p.m.: As of this evening Tasch says the petition will not be taken down. “Upon more careful reading” of the letter from Helpline Counsel Michael Garner, Tasch wrote in an email, “I found that the arguments he made seemed thin to nonsensical, and the demands far reaching, to the point of absurd. I am not a lawyer, however, and I have contacted him and requested clarification, in case I am missing or misunderstanding his logic.” Tasch also added that if the Helpline were to send a “cease and desist” action, he would retain counsel and reach out to the ACLU at that time.
“Washington has significant anti-SLAPP legislation on the books that speaks directly to this sort of action to squelch free speech and petition of government, and does not look kindly on it,” he wrote. “I am confident the I am within my rights and plan to go ahead with the petition as presently written, pending receipt of more detailed, cogent argument that we have somehow overstepped our rights to free speech, assembly and petition of government.”
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.
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.
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.
Update: At the April 13th Special Budget meeting of the City Council, Seattle’s Department of Finance was presenting potential changes to the 2009-2010 allocation of Real Estate Excise Tax (REET) Revenues. The potential impact to the Seattle Public Library is a two thirds reduction to the capital budget. The Librarys capital budget pays for major maintenance. The Friends of the Library are very concerned about the effects of the severe capital budget cuts being considered. From Jennifer at Friends of Library,
I’m happy to let you know that our own fabulous Queen Anne Books is hosting a petition from now until closing time at 5:30 pm on Sunday. I’ll be taking that petition and many others to the Monday, April 20th Special Budget meeting at 10:30am.
Last week we urged Queen Anne residents to stop by the Queen Anne Library to sign a petition to preserve funding for the Seattle Public Libraries. We received an email from Jennifer Johnson-Fong, Friends of The Seattle Public Library, Vice President, who excitedly reported that she was on her way down to City Hall yesterday morning for the special budget meeting. She was going to present the petition from Queen Anne to the Council. 68 signatures in two hours! A posting from the Friends of Library follows,
I got to connect with people who really appreciated that I was there volunteering to help them raise their voice in support of The Seattle Public Library. I saw patrons of every age today, and really that’s what libraries are about — they are about all people enriching their lives.
We’ve asked Jennifer to keep us updated!