Thursday, October 9, 2008

Reader Reponse: Details on Tesco Fresh & Easy Stores Denied Licenses and Permits to Sell Spirits, Beer and Wine in Southern California

In this October 7, 2008 piece, "Sacramento's Oak Park Neighborhood Association Files Appeal On Design of Proposed Neighborhood Fresh & Easy Store; Hearing Set For Oct.15," about Sacramento's Oak Park Neighborhood Association and its appeal of the design of the Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market small-format grocery store set to be built in the neighborhood, we mentioned that a Fresh & Easy store in Southern California had stopped selling alcoholic beverages because of protests by various community groups.

Fresh & Easy Buzz has received a number of requests via email to provide some additional information and details about the store and the issue.

First, we need to clarify a bit. The store didn't stop selling alcoholic beverages. Rather Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market pulled its liquor license application (after having its approval initially denied) that was on file with the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) because of the intense opposition and objections from the various organizations and community and neighborhood groups to the store's being able to sell alcoholic beverages in the neighborhood.

The store is located at: 15230 Vanowen Street, Los Angeles, California, 91405. It's referred to as the Vanowen & Sepulveda Fresh & Easy store.

We first reported on the development on March 13, 2008 when the California ABC denied Fresh & Easy's request for a hard liquor license for the store. Below is our March 13 report:

Spirits are down--beer and wine only: The state of California has refused to approve a liquor license application for a Fresh & Easy grocery store in Van Nuys, (Southern) California after a coalition of community and neighborhood groups based in Los Angeles petitioned and lobbied the state booze board, arguing there are already too many stores selling spirits in the area. The state liquor license review board agreed and denied Tesco's application.

The store can still sell beer and wine, since virtually any retailer in the state can sell the beverages in the adult drinks categories as long as they meet minimal qualifications and pay for and legally obtain a permit. However, it's not known if Tesco will go forward with the Van Nuys Fresh & Easy store absent being able to sell spirits at the proposed location. A Tesco spokesman said one option would be to not locate a store in the city at all. The other would be to go forward and sell just beer and wine at the proposed Van Nuys unit.
Van Nuys is a district in the city of Los Angeles and part of Los Angeles County. The Los Angeles-based coalition tells us it plans to protest other Fresh & Easy proposed store liquor license applications in Los Angeles County, and perhaps in other Southern California counties as well.

On August 18, 2008 the supermarket industry trade publication Supermarket News then reported the following:

Fresh & Easy Reportedly Pulls Liquor Application
Aug 18, 2008 6:00 AM, By ELLIOT ZWIEBACH

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market here has reportedly pulled its application for a liquor license at a store it opened earlier this month in Van Nuys, Calif., after the Los Angeles City Council said it would vote on whether to rescind the license that was pending. Fresh & Easy executives could not be reached for comment. According to the Alliance for Healthy & Responsible Grocery Stores, a coalition of over 25 labor-, environmental-, faith- and community-based organizations that has been at odds with Fresh & Easy over various issues during the past year, the chain originally was denied approval for a liquor license at the Van Nuys store by the city's zoning administration for that area, but that denial was overruled by the area's planning commission; however, when the city councilman who represents Van Nuys sought to have the entire council reconsider the appeal last week, Fresh & Easy withdrew the liquor application, the alliance reported. The alliance said Van Nuys citizens were concerned that the area — which the alliance said has seen an increase in alcohol-related crimes — is already over-saturated with liquor licenses, and there were also concerns that Fresh & Easy's self-checkout policy might make it easier for minors to buy liquor.

Regarding the concerns about Fresh & Easy's self-checkout policy (the stores offer only self-service checkout although store employees will assist customers if asked to do so by the shopper) perhaps making it easier for minors to buy liquor, we were the first to report in this July 14, 2008 piece, "Breaking News & Analysis: CA Assemblyman Introduces 'Tesco Fresh & Easy Law' to Ban Stores With Self-Checkout-Only From Selling Alcoholic Beverages," on new legislation proposed by California Assemblyman Hector De La Torre that if passed would ban the sales of alcoholic beverages of all kinds at stores in California like Fresh & Easy which offer only self-service checkout.

Very few if any food and grocery stores in California other than Tesco's Fresh & Easy offer self-service checkout only. Some such as Winco, Ralphs Fresh Fare, Safeway's "the market by Vons" in Long Beach, California and selected Wal-Mart-owned stores, along with a few others, offer a combination of self and full-service checkout. However we aren't aware of one major -- or minor-- chain that has stores in California offering self-service checkout-only like Fresh & Easy does.

The Assembly Bill, AB 523, wasn't voted on in this session, along with numerous other bills, because of the California State Legislature's failure to pass a state budget on time. The budget, which was more than 3 months overdue past its deadline, was only recently passed by the California Assembly and Senate and signed by the Governor. As a result of so much of the lawmakers focus going to hammering out a budget compromise, the leaders in the Assembly and Senate decided to table numerous pieces of legislation (including AB 523) and not take the time to vote on them in this session.

Assemblyman Hector De La Torre, a Democrat from South Gate in Southern California, has yet to say if he will reintroduce the legislation in the next session of the Assembly.

Vanowen & Sepulveda Fresh & Easy

The Vanowen & Sepulveda Fresh & Easy store hasn't been approved to date to sell not only hard liquor/spirits but was unable to even obtain a permit to sell wine and beer. Therefore the store currently is unable to sell alcoholic beverages of any kind. We varified this status with the store.

Originally, after being unable to sell spirits, it was thought by even members of the groups in opposition to the Fresh & Easy store being able to offer wine and beer for sale that the store would be granted an off-sale beer and wine sales permit, since such permits are seldom denied in California. However, as mentioned above, even that permit was denied the Vanowen and Sepulveda Fresh & Easy.

Hollywood, California Fresh & Easy

The Vanowen & Sepulveda Fresh & Easy isn't the only one of the grocery chain's stores in Southern California unable to sell alcoholic beverages.

Its Hollywood, California Fresh & Easy unit also doesn't sell liquor, wine or beer.

Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market's applications for a liquor license and beer and wine permit for the Hollywood store were both denied after the Rite Aid drug store chain, which has a store next to the Fresh & Easy, opposed granting the store the permits because of some sort of ordinance in the city that requires there only be a set number of stores within a given geographical area that are allowed to sell spirits, beer and wine. The Rite Aid drug store next to the Hollywood Fresh & Easy sells hard liquor, wine and beer. It appears Rite Aid saw a competitive advantage to opposing the Fresh & Easy Hollywood store's ability to sell spirits, beer and wine.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I haven't seen *any* hard liquor at any Fresh and Easy in about a year now. I guess they stopped selling them at all. I miss the $10 vodka and rum! :-(