Louisville Metro Councilwoman Cheri Bryant Hamilton, D-5, is proposing an ordinance to end alcohol sales after 2 a.m. at retail package stores as a way to help reduce crime.
But some community activists argue council members are using liquor sales as a scapegoat.
Over two-dozen liquor stores carry special licenses that allow alcohol sales up to 4 a.m., and the vast majority are concentrated in west Louisville.
The bill would exempt businesses such as bars and restaurants, and is likely to affect 24-hour convenience stores.
Hamilton did not respond to our request for comment, but one of the bill’s five co-sponsors, Councilman David James, D-6, says police statistics do show a heavy concentration of crime surrounding stores that sell alcohol for extended hours.
“Eighty-nine percent of the businesses that sell alcohol in retail package form after 2 a.m. are located in west Louisville. And around those areas we have a high number of alcohol related criminal offenses,” he says.
This isn’t the first battle over alcohol sales in the West End, where many residents believe that liquor stores are epicenters of crime and bad behavior.
In 2008, Hamilton spearheaded an effort to hold a series of wet-dry votes across district precincts targeting specific liquor stores. She has since been a proponent of keeping those stores out of her district in favor of other businesses that she says encourage more economic development.
Anti-violence advocates who work on crime prevention programs and tactics doubt curtailing liquor store hours will impact crime.
“Liquor stores are easier targets. It’s a lot harder to get a gun away from a kid or to manage a curfew,” says LIFE Institute CEO Eddie Woods, who works with at-risk youth. “When you’re talking about legislators you’re talking about what’s in their realm of control. But we got an issue that’s going to call for some policy changes, but it’s probably going to call for just as much community approach changes. We need to be changing conditions that create the problems and I don’t think liquor stores are that.”
City officials told The Courier-Journal Hamilton’s bill would likely not apply to areas outside of West End neighborhoods such as St. Matthews or Shively that have their own local alcohol regulations.
“Two in the morning is not the time to keep the party going. It’s the time when most folks should already be home from the party and off our streets,” says Councilwoman Mary Woolridge, D-3, who is supporting the ordinance.
Louisville businessman and community activist Norris Shelton owned a West End liquor store for two decades that had a 4 a.m. license. He says his former patrons weren’t breaking any laws and that council members are misguided.
“It’s not the people who drink that cause problems. It’s criminals. People who drank at my store would take their beverage and go home. Liquor stores don’t hurt people. It’s ignorance that hurts people. We think it destroys communities, but it’s bad economics that destroys those communities,” he says.
Earlier this year, the council voted to expand hours for liquor sales on Sundays from 1 p.m. to 10 a.m. for local restaurants mainly in downtown and areas to the east. The argument was that it boosts the city’s economy by supporting the hospitality industry.
James voted for the extension of alcohol sale hours in that instance, but says there is no contradiction in backing Hamilton’s bill.
“What we’re doing is changing package alcohol sales in retail establishments. I think we have a direct correlation between crimes statistics and alcohol sales, and the number one responsibility of government is the protection of its citizens. It’s pretty simple,” he says.
The legislation will be given a first reading at Thursday’s Metro Council meeting, and will be assigned to the Public Safety Committee.
It is being co-sponsored by James and Woolridge, along with Democratic council members Attica Scott, Barbara Shanklin and Marianne Butler.