Newport City Council reject business owner's liquor store proposalThe Newport City Council corked a businessman’s plan to open a liquor store on Hastings Avenue.
The Newport City Council has corked a businessman’s plan to open a liquor store on Hastings Avenue.
The proposal for a second liquor store along the city’s main commercial drag appears dead after council members last week denied a liquor license for the proposed off-sale business, saying it would sit too near an existing liquor store and didn’t fit the “economic mix” they want for Hastings Avenue.
Following a heated hearing during which accusations of intimidation and local economic protectionism flew, a split council voted 4-1 to quash the plan that business owner Steve Linn had proposed for an empty retail building his company owns on Hastings Avenue. Linn runs Linn Companies, which owns multiple area gas stations, convenience stores and automotive parts retailers.
The problem with Linn’s proposal, the council members opposed said, was that the city’s second full-fledged liquor store would sit just 500 feet from its only other, Newport Liquor.
“I believe in capitalism and the free market,” said Mayor Tim Geraghty, who told Linn during the hearing he had struggled to reach a decision on the issue. “At the same time, to have another liquor store 500 feet (from Newport Liquor) …to have it that close, I don’t know.”
Linn said he and his partners had decided to pursue opening a liquor store at 1594 Hastings Avenue after he was unable to find a tenant for the vacant renovated retail space. The location was left empty after Linn relocated an existing Napa Auto Parts store the company owns to a new building less than a block away last fall.
The empty commercial building, however, sits next door to the Newport Center shopping area — home to Newport Liquor, long the small city’s primary purveyor of beer, wine and liquor.
A liquor store somewhere else — for example, across Highway 61 near the transit center set to open next year on Maxwell Avenue — would be more desirable, said council member Tom Ingemann, who voted to deny the license.
Ingemann and Newport Liquor owner Jeerasak Poophakumpanartart also accused Linn of intimidating the liquor store’s owners, claiming Linn said he would open his own liquor store in the building if Newport Liquor didn’t agree to move their business into his vacant retail space.
Linn vehemently denied that charge and said he had long considered entering Linn Companies into the off-sale liquor business. Another liquor store, he said, would be good for Newport’s business community.
“So the intent here is just to protect them?” Linn asked the council during what rapidly became a testy exchange. “It’s allowed in the city but it’s not allowed here?”
Officials said the city’s ordinance does not specify a minimum distance between off-sale liquor license-holding businesses.
Council members Bill Sumner and Tracy Rahm were less confrontational in their opposition of Linn’s liquor license, saying a second liquor store in close proximity wouldn’t help diversify the types of businesses city officials desire along Newport’s main commercial corridor that fronts Highway 61.
Steven Gallagher was the lone vote in favor of issuing the liquor license. The first-term council member said the city should allow the market to determine whether two liquor stores can survive in Newport.
“What comes next? Do we say a restaurant can’t come in because we have another?” Gallagher said.
Newport officials in recent years have tried to jump start commercial redevelopment in the city and fill vacant retail spaces left by businesses that closed during protracted Highway 61 reconstruction and the building of a new Interstate 494 Wakota Bridge.
Poophakumpanartart, the owner of Newport Liquor, said his business had struggled through the near-decade of construction and said the city of only 3,200 couldn’t support another liquor store.
“We’ve been through all the construction,” Poophakumpanartart said. “I don’t ask for your help. I ask for you to think clearly.”
Linn indicated to the council that denying his application wouldn’t help the city attract more business and said he is less likely to develop another Newport parcel that Linn Companies owns.
“There aren’t people busting down the door to get into this city,” Linn told the council. “It’s a great city — I love it — it’s been great to us... but we’re not going to develop the other parcel we have in town when we can’t fill the one we have.”