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Fresno Needs More Grocery Stores. Would Change to Local Liquor Law Help It Happen?
gvw_edward_smith
By Edward Smith
Published 4 weeks ago on
May 22, 2024

The Fresno City Council will discuss exempting grocery stores from a local law that typically adds hundreds of thousands of dollars to the cost of opening a business that sells alcohol. (GV Wire Composite/Paul Marshall)

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The Fresno City Council will discuss Thursday reversing the part of a local law that requires grocery stores wanting to sell alcohol to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy multiple liquor licenses and retire all but one of them.

If approved, the amendment to the 2020 Responsible Neighborhood Market Act will exempt full-service grocery stores from the rules meant to limit blight caused by some liquor stores. Fresno City Councilmember Nelson Esparza says the change will make opening grocery stores easier.

“From the very beginning, we always knew there would be some amendments required and we’d have to let it work and see what adjustments were going to be needed in the future,” Esparza said.

Act Sought to Limit All Off-Site Alcohol Sales

Councilmembers sought via the act to reduce blight in areas saturated by liquor stores. Officials said that problematic liquor stores were crime and blight magnets.

Their solution mandated that stores selling alcohol could not open within 1,000 feet of one another. By requiring new operators to buy multiple liquor licenses, the thought was that some bad operators would sell theirs and close down.

However, in the council’s effort to clean up the city, grocery stores got wrapped up in the fight. Meanwhile, business owners and advocates said it wasn’t new businesses adding to the blight. They further argued that the act further entrenched bad operators by increasing the value of their liquor licenses and stifling competition.

‘A Lot of Concern’ RNMA Would Inhibit Grocery Store Development

The city defines grocery stores as those selling “canned and frozen foods; fresh fruits and vegetables; and fresh and prepared meats.” The proposal to be considered on Thursday includes expanding the definition of grocery stores to include delis that sell some prepared foods and grocery items — think India Sweets and Spices.

Convenience stores will still have to buy additional liquor licenses if they want to sell alcohol.

For years, community advocacy groups have called for more grocery stores in what are known as “food deserts.” The Southwest Fresno Specific Plan, passed in 2018, rezoned massive swaths of industrial land to retail in the hopes of bringing in more grocery stores.

Past opponents to RNMA said the measure would make it harder to open grocery stores that typically profit from alcohol sales while operating responsibly.

Esparza said they wanted to see how the policy was working before carving exemptions into the law.

“At the time we did pass (RNMA) there was a lot of concern as to whether it would prohibit grocery stores from springing up as easily as we want them to,” Esparza said.

10 Liquor Licenses Surrendered

The size of the store dictates how many liquor licenses must be purchased before opening under RNMA. A small convenience store might only have to buy two — one for their operations and one to retire. A full-size grocery store might have to buy four, retiring three.

The owner of Yosemite Market at Gettysburg and Chestnut avenues said he spent $100,000 to upgrade his beer and wine license to include liquor. George Beal of Beal Investments, who operates Johnny Quik stores, said that was on the low end.

October 2023 data from the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control requested by GV Wire showed 10 surrendered licenses. Of those, only two licenses weren’t upgrades from beer and wine to liquor of all kinds.

Esparza called the effort to reduce the number of liquor stores throughout the city a success.

“The point was to curb the saturation of off-site alcohol licenses and it’s doing its job,” Esparza said.

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Edward Smith,
Multimedia Journalist
Edward Smith began reporting for GV Wire in May 2023. His reporting career began at Fresno City College, graduating with an associate degree in journalism. After leaving school he spent the next six years with The Business Journal, doing research for the publication as well as covering the restaurant industry. Soon after, he took on real estate and agriculture beats, winning multiple awards at the local, state and national level. You can contact Edward at 559-440-8372 or at Edward.Smith@gvwire.com.

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