February 12, 2008

No booze for you

The alcohol ban takes effect in West Louisville amid continued protests from storeowners and their lawyersCustomers of the F&Y Food Mart at 38th and Market may not notice the new sign at the entrance door. Unlike the colorful cigarette and lottery advertisements, the single bland printer sheet reads: No beer sales allowed. If you miss it on your way in and then venture to buy a Bud Light, Miller Genuine Draft or something from the assortment of ghetto-exclusive malt liquor brands, you’ll find each glass refrigerator door is locked with its own sign: No beer sales allowed. Over at Kader’s, a convenience store at 41st and Muhammad Ali, the sign on the beer doors reads, “Because of YOUR vote: No Beers Sales Allowed.” Monday evening, one woman marched in to quickly purchase a brew for her husband. She stopped in the middle of the aisle when she saw the chains wrapped across the doors with a deadbolt dangling in the middle. “You not selling beer?” she asked, sounding depressed. Taunting the thirst of drunks, winos and casual drinkers alike, the alcohol stares back at customers. “No ma’am,” the clerk said. “We’re part of the dry vote that’s in effect.” Her shoulders dipped. She turned to leave. “Well, I guess he won’t get a beer.” For five months, dry supporters have waited for their victory to take effect. In September, the wet-dry vote drew an 86-percent landslide in favor of banning alcohol sales in four precincts in the Shawnee neighborhood and a sliver of Portland. Those results were immediately challenged in two lawsuits, filed on behalf of a handful of Shawnee residents and mostly Palestinian-American store owners, that claimed improper electioneering, use of illegal polling stations, racial discrimination and that the voters were unaware of the election’s implications. Finally in late January, Circuit Court Judge Martin McDonald’s anticipated judgment dismissed both lawsuits. Since last week, alcohol sales have been off-limits. “The folks in opposition to us now know, the game is up,” said the Rev. Geoffrey Ellis, pastor of Greater St. James AME, one of the leaders in the dry movement. Ellis said residents are relieved, but added that it was frustrating to have their vote entangled in litigation for so long.For Metro Councilwoman Cheri Bryant Hamilton, D-5, a visible supporter of the ban last year, there’s more than just the relief that the community’s vote was upheld. She felt personally vindicated after McDonald’s decision: Some of the lawsuits’ claims directly accused her of improper electioneering. “Throughout this process we were confident that everything was done legally,” she told LEO. While dry supporters feel vindicated and victorious in their movement to improve the Shawnee and Portland neighborhoods, attorneys for the storeowners continue to petition the courts. Thurman Senn, a lawyer for three storeowners, asked McDonald to reconsider his clients’ case and lift the ban for 30 days while he appeals. McDonald has yet to respond. Teddy Gordon, the lawyer for two other storeowners, had an appeal hearing Monday that was rescheduled for later this week after Judge Steve Ryan recused himself. In the meantime, Gordon has offered a resolution outside the legal process to settle the dispute. “Mr. Gordon has made an offer to redo the entire election,” a spokesperson for Gordon told LEO. But hitting the reset button doesn’t appeal to dry supporters, who view Gordon’s proposal as an act of desperation.“It’s a ridiculous offer,” said the Rev. Clay Calloway, president of the Interdenominational Ministerial Coalition. “The community is not going to be insulted.” Hamilton agreed. She told LEO that Gordon’s offer has no merit now, considering the vote was upheld in court. “It was a valid vote and they’re trying anything,” she said. “We voted. It’s over.”Presently, Hamilton is correct. The aftermath of this community battle has left both sides battered — and exhausted from repeating their talking points. Predictably, storeowners aren’t ready to give in. “The Alcoholic Beverage Control Board came in and shut us down,” said Hamdallah “Jimmy” Mohammed, owner of F&Y Food Mart. Mohammed told LEO that ABC officials sat out in the parking lot to monitor whether anyone left with alcohol, and said, “They’re watching us like we’re drug dealers.” Mohammed’s frustration is palpable. He sees himself as a businessman who has been unfairly turned into a scapegoat for “Bible thumpers” who cannot target the real problems. Since the 1980s, his family, including his cousins, uncle and father, have been store owners in West Louisville, where they work 18-hour days. “I’m frustrated with this community, too,” he said in a phone interview. “I’m frustrated, period.” Contact the writer at citystrobe@leoweekly.com