Too many bars can bring problems, Liquor Commission says

Published November 27, 2004

Too many bars and liquor stores in neighborhoods or small towns can mean major law enforcement headaches and extra social problems.

So the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission would like additional power to use liquor license density as a specific factor in licensing decisions.

And Whiteclay, until recently home to 14 people and four beer stores, isn’t the only reason for this proposed change in state law.

“The commission has seen an increase in violations in areas where there is an over saturation of retail licenses,” commission members wrote in a letter to state senators asking for changes in liquor laws.

“The easiest way to give the commissioners more discretion to take density into account when issuing licenses is to rewrite state law,” the letter says.

The commission wants to be able to use density as a specific factor especially if the local community brings it up, said Hobert Rupe, the commission’s executive director.

Density is an issue in Whiteclay, where millions of bottles of beer are sold each year to residents of the neighboring Pine Ridge reservation, which does not allow alcohol.

One of the four stores in Whiteclay lost its liquor license in March. A Chadron man who applied for a license to replace that one, but withdrew his application Nov. 22.

The problem is broader than Whiteclay, said Rupe.

“When there is a relatively high density of liquor licenses, we are seeing more violations,” he said.

The violations generally fall into three areas: serving alcohol to minors and to intoxicated people and serving it after hours, he said.

“We think that when an area gets over-saturated, economics may be forcing them to violate the liquor law,” Rupe said.

The director of an underage drinking prevention group put it more succinctly.

“People are doing bad business to get business,” said Diane Riibe, executive director of Project Extra Mile.

Falls City residents recently used the density issue in successfully opposing a package liquor license for the local Pamida store.

The community of 4,671 has several package stores, four bars and two clubs within the city limits, according to letters to the commission opposing the license.

Many studies have concluded the more alcohol outlets available, the greater the increase in crime and violence, the Rev. Steven Wainwright said in his letter to the commission.

Lincoln Police Chief Tom Casady thinks the commission’s recommendation is a good one.

“I think the density of licenses can be more of a problem than the sheer number of licenses,” he said.

“When there is more geographic dispersal, when every storefront on a block isn’t a bar, bar, bar, bar, we think that helps reduce the critical mass of alcohol problems.”

Saturation is an issue in many Nebraska communities, Riibe said.

“What we are hearing over and over again across the state is, ‘When is enough, enough?’” she said. “People are saying this is a real problem.”

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