Janesville OKs 'baby steps' to ease alcohol sales

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Neil Johnson
Tuesday, July 29, 2014

JANESVILLE—The city is rolling ahead with policies officials call “baby steps” toward relaxing long-standing rules on physical separation of retail alcohol sales and liquor license quotas.

This week, the Janesville City Council OK'd an ordinance change allowing supermarkets and niche grocers to display and sell up to 80 square feet of beer and fermented beverages—including craft wine—without a permanent physical separation in stores.

The council also approved an ordinance change allowing individual businesses to lobby the council with a business plan to exceed the city's quota for Class A liquor licenses.

No city Class A licenses are currently available. A retailer must have a Class A license to sell packaged alcohol.

No Class A licenses are currently available. A retailer must have a Class A license to sell packaged alcohol. - See more at: http://www.gazettextra.com/article/20140323/ARTICLES/140329923#sthash.Snszme5T.dpuf

The ordinance change also would tie a city quota on licenses to annual state population counts instead of to 10-year census counts. That would give the city more flexibility to respond to population growth, city officials said.

The separation ordinance change caters mainly to grocery stores and niche grocers who seek to sell small amounts of craft beer and other malt beverages, officials have said.

The ordinance change in its wording excludes gas stations and pharmacies.  

Yet even before the ink has dried on the new rules, there are signs some local convenience stores and gas stations are clamoring to sell alcohol without in-store separations.

This week, Jeff Kimberly, a regional manager for Casey's General Store, asked the council to consider allowing Casey's to sell alcohol without an in-store separation. 

Casey's is building a new, 24-hour gas station and convenience store at Center Avenue and Joliet Street in Janesville, and it plans to sell beer and wine there, according to the company's proposal.

Kimberly told the council that Casey's has “fail safes” set up that curb underage alcohol sales, including a policy to scan the ID of anyone buying alcohol.

He said the company's registers are set up to lock out alcohol sales after legal sale hours set by the city, and that it can lock its coolers. 

“We sometimes have more security than what your local grocery stores have in place which would prevent minors form coming in to buy alcohol or grab it and run with it,” Kimberly said.

Council member Douglas Marklein said this week that he's leery of allowing gas stations to sell alcohol without a physical separation.

“Part of it is to restrict the availability of liquor,” he told Kimberly at a meeting Monday. “We're taking baby steps here loosening up our quota a little bit.”

City staff had worked up new alcohol rules, including the separation and quota amendments under cooperation with local anti-substance abuse group Janesville Mobilizing 4 Change.

Mobilizing 4 Change gave its blessing on both city staff recommendations, saying the rules were a compromise that would allow businesses to grow but keep liquor out of that hands of youth.

Marklein said allowing gas stations to sell alcohol without separations could lead to a glut of convenience stores lobbying to exceed the liquor license quota just to put in beer coolers or alcohol kiosks. 

“With the proliferation of convenience stores that are in Janesville, I can think of 15 off the top of my head," Marklein said. "I don't think it was the intent of opening our quota to give 15 licenses out to our convenience stores."

Council member Sam Liebert said it will be important for the city to monitor the new rules over the next few months, but he didn't want to see the city using the rules to choose certain businesses as favorites, while “discriminating” against others.

Under Liebert's suggestion, the council has asked city staff to bring before the alcohol licensing and advisory next spring a review of whether gas stations or even pharmacies could be allowed to sell alcohol without a physical separation.   

Last updated: 6:44 pm Tuesday, July 29, 2014

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