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People Post is a space for opinion pieces, letters to the editor and guest submissions from members of the Long Beach community. The following is an op-ed submitted by Patrick Conlon, owner of Muldoon’s Saloon in North Long Beach, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Long Beach Post.

Liquor stores, or what should be specifically classified as corner stores—small independently owned liquor stores that are typically 800-2500 square feet, typically undifferentiated from their competition and only cater to the locals in their surrounding area—and how many owners were contributing to the blight of the community they were serving, is the focus of the discussion.

The first thing that needs to be talked about is the usefulness and success of the Alcohol Nuisance Abatement Program (ANAP).

It has done a lot to make liquor stores less of an eye sore and minimize problems such as loitering by taking out public phones among other great things to fight against businesses with inferior standards. The $2,000/year rebate program is making it easier for business owners to fix the exterior of their buildings, something the landlords can also take advantage of to get these businesses up to code and basic aesthetic standards.

ANAP also helped shut down places that were swarming with problems and a lot worse in general before it was created and enforced.

While this has been a positive development, I am sure, for many Long Beach residents, I want to stress that the conversation and issues do not stop there. It needs further exploration. ANAP does not have control over the actual number of corner stores in each neighborhood and how they set their prices.

The free market determines that as well as Long Beach’s liquor policy before recent times that have grandfathered so many of these stores in. The state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control does set price floors where a retailer cannot sell below the price they bought it from a wholesaler but this often is an irrelevant point. ANAP in many ways is a healthy first step to attacking this issue of over-saturation but the issue will not perish until you have a concentration of liquor stores that don’t contribute to an area’s blight.

Over Saturation:
Over saturation is a dreadful thing in the world of business. Competition is always a good thing for the customer because it holds businesses accountable to the needs of their customers under the threat of losing the business to someone else who is better at accommodating them, but when the competition is overwhelming, with other businesses that are doing the exact same thing you are doing, there is only one way but down.

Down in your prices in order to stay afloat or get ahead.

Most of the liquor stores in North Long Beach are not different (or different enough) in anyway from each other, other than one might have more floor space to carry a few more products than their competition or that certain items might be significantly cheaper than each other.

The items I see most commonly purchased are airline bottles of low grade liquor or common call brand liquor in 750 ml glass bottles, and Malt Liquor 40 ouncers. Well, that is all I see on the sidewalks, medians, parking lots and gutters—I can’t really speak to what their receipts say.

An over-saturation of liquor stores can set prices down so very low you can pick up an airline bottle or shot for a $1 or $2 at certain stores. In some cases there are as many as 4-6 liquor stores within walking distance from each other where a shopper might just shop around for the best prices for their liquor of choice on foot.

The lower the prices go the higher the social costs, there is an inverse relationship between the two.

There are as many as 34 ( ABC type 21) corner stores in the North Long Beach area and I am not including stores like Food for Less that have floor space dedicated to selling the same exact products. The North Long Beach area is about 7 square miles, that is about five liquor stores per square mile.

Then there are the liquor stores that are not in North Long Beach but right across the street in neighboring cities of Lakewood, Paramount, Bellflower, Compton, and Carson. There could be as many as six or seven per square mile if you take into consideration the liquor stores across the street in neighboring cities.

These lowbrow liquor stores often cater to problem drinkers and in an over-saturated market just puts gasoline over this raging social tire fire of an issue. What you might find going into these stores is that some items are in fact more expensive than the competition and that there are other items that are much lower than the competition.

For instance the airline bottle might be a buck or two each but the Red Bull cans (complementary items) are $3.50 a pop. So they attempt to make their profit one way or another.

North Long Beach has 20 percent of Long Beach’s population but 40 percent of its liquor stores. There are a lot of really interesting studies about areas with high density of liquors  including their correlation with higher violent crime rates. Read more here, here and here.

Liquor stores that are not part of the problem but could be part of the solution:

An example of liquor stores that North Long Beach needs are stores like Bevmo, Total Wine, or independently owned liquor stores that offer something unique to customers that are based in the area.

These kinds of stores sell craft beer, kegs, fine wine, and quality products that are bought and sold for more social reasons like holding events at your house, venue, etc. Examples of people that have carved a niche other than of the corporate chains mentioned are King Keg who fits into my description of a corner store.

The owner was surrounded by competition like Bevmo and other serious competitors but only 10 percent of his business came from foot traffic coming in his front door. The rest of his business came from supplying alcohol to his clients elsewhere (frat boys at USC, weddings, beer festivals) and by doing home deliveries using apps like Drizzly, carving a niche in the market by specializing in these things.

Renown Orange County bartender Gabriel Dion opened up a bartending/liquor store called “The Mixing Glass” in Costa Mesa selling craft spirits along with exotic bartending equipment, popular bartending books, and high quality bitters.

The point is that North Long Beach just has a lot of corner stores that are all the same and offer nothing unique. These companies I mentioned are examples of services and products that residents of North Long Beach have to travel to outside of their home in order to acquire.

Stores like this would fit perfectly into the Uptown Renaissance vision and viable once it is further along in its developments. The opening of more grocery stores may in fact be the most monumental thing North Long Beach could do as more competition from stores like these may take away a lot of liquor stores’ business.

Most grocery stores as every man, women, and child knows do sell the same products as any liquor store and they are not at rock bottom prices. As Vice Mayor Rex Richardson always likes to point out, there is wealth in North Long Beach, there is a ton of home ownership up here, and yes there is a demand for stores like these that will only grow as North Long Beach is in an embryonic stage of a reawakening.

Some owners want to sell, does the city want to buy?

After talking with a few liquor store owners I found that at least some would be more than willing to sell their corner stores. Some are liquor store owners that have been in the business a long time and are now of a very old age and want to get out which is a very similar trend in the bar industry where Baby Boomers are getting too old and want to stop working so they sell their business in hopes to retire.

So I explored the option of talking to the city about buying out all these liquor stores that North Long Beach doesn’t really need. I first talked to the planning department and talked to the people who were in charge of the Alcohol Nuisance Abatement Program, thanks to Rex’s office for pointing me in this direction.

They said that they understood what I was talking about but they have no control over how businesses set their prices and the nuisance of over saturation. But they did refer me to the city’s economic program where the conversation got a lot more interesting.

It turns out that the city has a history of doing just that. The city bought a liquor store across the street from VIP Records when they wanted to buy and redevelop a commercial building because of its contribution to the city’s blight. I’m not sure how it was all organized by there was some kind of government intervention.

I told the economic department about North Long Beach’s liquor store over-saturation problem and how it contributes to the trash accumulation, public intoxication, and other social issues mentioned earlier and they said that they would seriously consider doing this but there currently is no money to do just that and the money would have to be taken from the general fund if they were to do it right at this moment.

At this point it’s really a matter of whether there is political will and support to get constituents and their elected leaders to secure the funds to do just that and decide whether it is worth the investment or not. It’s been done before, why not now? The benefits are more than obvious.

Other things to consider:

There is a serious financial and social opportunity cost associated with these liquor stores. They are taking up prime real estate space for something that could be a lot more lucrative like a cool cafe and/or coffee shop or a small restaurant (Northside could use more restaurants) and other businesses that are not pressured by immense competition at least compared to liquor stores.

Long Beach has a 10.25 percent sales tax: businesses that sell their products and services for less collect less sales tax for the city of Long Beach.

As North Long Beach continues to progress with these ambitious community development programs and events —such as the opening of the Michelle Obama Library, the Houghton Park Community Center, the exciting developments that will take place on South Street and Atlantic Avenue, as well as the growing political power residents are slowly gaining in North Long Beach by organizing to lobby for more resources (public money) for their community—the over concentration of liquor stores in tandem with other businesses that attract trouble when they are over-concentrated in small geographic areas may be serious factors to consider when more private capital sets their eyes to North Long Beach to invest.

I am not reinventing the wheel, I am just making everyone aware that buying liquor stores is a viable option to solve an ancient problem Long Beach and other cities around the country face. We pay a 10.25 percent sales tax rate in the city of Long Beach which is one of the highest in the state of California. Northside wants to see that return on investment Long Beach!

Patrick Conlon is the owner of Muldoon’s Saloon in North Long Beach since 2016 and is an Orange County resident.