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Rod Watson: A liquor store at old Gigi's restaurant? Neighbors offer a resounding 'no'

Rod Watson

Dear Tsegai Mesfin:

I hope you have a Plan B.

It seems clear after outraged residents and community leaders filled the meeting room in the Delavan-Grider Community Center the other night that your original proposal to put a liquor store in the former Gigi’s restaurant is not going to fly.

In the informational meeting about the State Liquor Authority’s process for evaluating applications, Deputy Commissioner David L. Edmunds said the agency values the opinions of community residents in making its decisions.

Those opinions were best summed up by 10-year-old School 81 student Jaylah Bell, who said, "We are already considered the ‘hood or the ghetto, and this will just add to the reputation ... and this is a bad example for my generation."

The packed meeting room gave her a standing ovation.

That’s the community’s opinion.

Strike 1.

More critically, Edmunds said, the authority considers a key question: Is the community being adequately served by the liquor stores that are currently licensed?

With East Ferry Liquors just three-tenths of a mile away, and audience members shouting out the names of other nearby liquor stores, that will be easy for SLA commissioners to answer.

And in case they have any doubt, organizers of the petitions drives and letter-writing campaigns opposing your application will stress that point in their missives to the authority. Young Jaylah, for instance, has already gathered about 250 signatures and plans on getting at least 500, said her mom, Raven. Others are doing likewise.

Edmunds said that, among other factors, the authority will look at the number of liquor stores that are close by, how much business those stores are doing and whether the community’s population is growing or shrinking. But most important, he stressed time and time again, is the question of whether the community is already adequately served.

With East Ferry Liquors and at least three others – DT Liquors, Pernell’s Liquor and Bus Stop Liquor – within two miles, the answer is clear.

Proposed liquor store on Gigi's site stirs community opposition

Strike 2.

And if all of that doesn’t dissuade you, maybe this will: The Rev. James A. Lewis, chairman of the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals, said that because the site has been unused since the iconic Gigi’s was destroyed by fire in 2015, you will have to apply to the city for a use permit. Lewis made it clear that his board listens to the community. So might other city panels.

Strike 3.

Masten Council Member Ulysees Wingo, who convened the meeting, said you did not consult him before submitting your SLA application. If you had, perhaps you would have realized this is not what the community wants or needs, and would have proposed a more beneficial business.

More important, perhaps you would have realized that this is not the same old African-American community – the dormant one that would passively accept anything and that didn’t know how to use the mechanisms of power to protect its interests.

No, this is the one fed up with outsiders coming in to exploit rather than to serve. The one fed up with corner stores popping up to sell loose cigarettes and diapers and outdated, overpriced food. The one fed up with businesses harboring illegal activity and, in the words of one resident, with cameras set up to alert them when police arrive.

In other words, this is the community that is fed up, period, and not willing to take it anymore. This is the community that wants a business that will benefit residents, not contribute to health disparities that plague their neighborhoods.

I don’t know if you knew all of that, since you didn’t attend the meeting and – through Wingo’s office – you declined an interview request. But if you didn’t know it before, you know it now.

But lest you get the wrong impression, it’s not all negative. This is also a community that will be glad to help you come up with Plan B – if you respect the residents enough to consult them first.

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