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Ordinance brews controversy in Milton

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NEIL W. JOHNSON
July 21, 2011
— A gas station owner is asking the Milton City Council to reconsider a new city ordinance that imposes a 9 p.m. curfew on retail beer sales for Class A licensed beer sellers.

Amin Shaikh, who owns the Milton Travel Center gas station and McDonald’s at Highway 26 and Arthur Drive, said he believes the ordinance unfairly targets him.


Shaikh, whose gas station and convenience store stays open until 11 p.m., said he spent $30,000 this year outfitting his store with a walk-in beer cooler. He was looking forward to the competitive edge of being the only gas station and retailer in town with late-night beer sales.


The other two retail stores that sell beer in Milton—Beverage Mart and Piggly Wiggly— close at 9 p.m.


The city, Shaikh said, “pulled the carpet right under me.”


At a June 21 meeting, the council approved a 9 p.m. beer sale cutoff for retailers, waving a second and third reading on the ordinance. The decision came just four months after the council had approved a Class A beer license for Shaikh’s gas station in a 4-2 vote.


State statute allows licensed retailers to sell beer from 8 a.m. to midnight. The new ordinance restricts beer sales in Milton from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.


In a June 20 memo, City Administrator Jerry Schuetz wrote that the council believed the rollback would provide “consistency in the community,” noting that Shaikh is the only licensed retail beer-seller in the city with a store open past 9 p.m.


Schuetz also wrote that curtailing late beer sales was “in the interest of public safety.”


Shaikh claims the ordinance is unfair because it affects him, yet has no effect on other local retailers. Plus, he said, Beverage Mart and Piggly Wiggly’s liquor licenses are different. They’re allowed to sell wine and liquor; Shaikh’s license is just for beer.


“I’ve told the city, look, the other two stores you are comparing me with, they have a liquor license and beer license,” Shaikh said Wednesday. “I’m not a liquor store. I’m not a grocery store. I’m a convenience store.”


Given that he’s open late and the other retail beer-sellers close early, Shaikh said he wonders if the new beer curfew was put in place in part to protect other businesses against competition.


“It’s probably a favoritism given to somebody,” Shaikh said. “I smell a fish.”


In an interview Wednesday, Alderman Dave Adams dismissed that concern.


“It’s to standardize (sale of) packaged beer, and that’s it,” Adams said. “The idea is to minimize the number of places selling beer after 9 o’clock and people leaving bars and parties and picking up booze.”


Added Adams: “I don’t understand how two hours of selling beer are going to make him (Shaikh) sink or swim.”


Beverage Mart owner Sue Lovelace said her liquor store used to stay open until 10 p.m., but she said it now closes at 9 p.m., mostly because that’s about when customers taper off.


Lovelace supports the earlier cutoff for beer sales.


“I think it’s a good idea. They should keep a cap on it. When you’re coming back until midnight to get beer, you could have more underagers,” Lovelace said.


Shaikh said customers have told him they’ll drive elsewhere if they can’t get beer at his store after 9 p.m. So much for curtailing potential drunken driving, he said.


“They’ll just go to the bar, or Janesville. What good is it?” Shaikh said.


Shaikh and his attorney, Guy Fish, asked the council Tuesday to consider amending the ordinance so it would require future beer retailers to comply with the 9 p.m. cutoff yet allow Shaikh to continue to sell beer until midnight.


Shaikh said that would allow the city consistency in the future, while not limiting rights that he and the city had agreed upon in the original beer license.


The request would have to be raised at the city’s personnel and finance committee, which handles liquor license issues.


Meanwhile, Shaikh said he’ll comply with the new ordinance, but he plans to keep fighting to have it amended. He said he has considered legal action.


Fish was unavailable for comment Wednesday.



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