License to sell

Last night we had out first gathering for weekly prayer for our street. It was great to come together around the purpose of lifting our neighbors and our neighborhood up in prayer, and I am hopeful for how we will see God work in response. We prayed for specific families, for specific buildings, for peace and safety, for justice and opportunity. We prayed for our own witness here, that, as the children’s song suggests, we would not hide our light here under bushels; that we would stand against the powers of Satan that would seek to blow our light out.

One example of what that looks like in the coming week: Monday afternoon, a group of us will head downtown to testify at a hearing concerning a local business’ request for a liquor license. There is an individual who has plans to open a small restaurant/bakery at the end of our street, right next door to the little grocery market on the corner. This individual has applied for a full liquor license to serve all kinds of liquor, and to not require food purchase along with it. This individual is claiming that they wish to make alcohol available to its dining patrons, but it is easy to see their clear maneuverings to enable liquor sales wholly apart from the consumption of meals. Yes, this person wishes to open a restaurant, but it is clear that he also wants to establish a bar.

Now, as I have noted here before, Doug and I have no problem with people consuming alcohol. We drink it, we serve it in our home, we order it in restaurants. We used to enjoy going to bars (that was before the children). However, there are issues with having liquor sales in this community that cause us great concern. One of the first ways that the early founders of our church engaged their neighborhood here was the battle to close down a trouble liquor store. This store was a known hangout for gang members who ran drugs in the back by the video games; prostitutes were available and aggressive on the street outside; the store itself was handing out cups of ice along with hard alcohol purchases, effectively transforming the corner outside into an open bar. Shootings were frequent as a result of the drug sales and gang activity.

Our church founders, after the house they were renting across the street from this liquor store was struck by bullets, began to talk with neighbors about the issues surrounding this store. They persisted in building a coalition of neighbors to engage the legal/political system in L.A. and after literally years of work, they were ultimately victorious in seeing the store’s liquor license revoked, and that property re-zoned to never permit the sale of liquor again. The ironic name of that liquor store? Lucky Liquor (or Not-So-Lucky Liquor as they liked to say). Today, a nice neighborhood grocery store serves our community where the liquor store used to stand.

When Doug and I first moved here, and when I was serving as the director of our local tutoring program, there was another liquor store further down that same street that was also a blight and threat to our community. The store owners failed to comply with regulations that required a security guard to be always present out front; the prostitution there was some of the most blatant I have ever seen; and the store was actually selling the little balloons that crack dealers use to conceal rocks in case they need to swallow them if they are approached by the police. This store was located on the one corner that had a crosswalk between where we live and the local grade school: it broke my heart to see our kids have to pass through such activity on their way to and from school. And it was yet another case of the abuse and exploitation of the poor and vulnerable by a non-local business owner interested in making easy cash. I had the opportunity to testify at the hearing against this liquor store owner (I think I have mentioned here before about the local pastor who showed up to testify in favor of this business-owner: a clear example of why living where you worship matters), and we saw that store lose its license as well.

Well, the new business that is requesting a license to sell liquor sits adjacent to where Lucky Liquor once stood. And for all of us who remember how things used to be here, and who saw what a remarkable transformation occurred when that store closed its doors, the thought of a new establishment opening its doors is horrifying. As my politically savvy brother-in law who led the charge against the other liquor stores reminds us, it is much easier to prevent these places from being established in the first place than it is to get rid of them once they exist.

The site of this potential restaurant/bar is at the end of my street. We have enough on our street already that concerns us. I feel strongly that adding readily available alcohol will only hurt all of us here, as I fear that it will exploit the poor and the addicted for the sake of someone’s profit. I cannot bear to think about returning to those darker days of fear and violence living in the shadows of Lucky Liquor. If you think of us on Monday, say a prayer for our testimonies and for the outcome of this hearing.


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