When the ink dries on a change that most of the Janesville city council agreed to Monday, a local gas station will be allowed to sell beer and liquor by the-can—just like the 27 other liquor stores in Janesville that are allowed to do so.
The council on a 5-2 vote Monday ditched a restriction on single-container sales of alcohol that the city’s Alcohol License Advisory Committee and an earlier city council wrote into a class A retail liquor license for east-side gas station J&R Express Mart in late 2020.
The move came after J&R last week asked the advisory committee to overturn the restriction, but the liquor board deadlocked on a 3-3 vote on the issue and failed to give the council a decisive recommendation on whether to change the rule.
Paul Williams, a city council member who also is the chairman of the committee, dug in against the change even as his colleague and another member of the city’s liquor board, city council Vice President Paul Benson, recommended the council toss out the restriction.
Williams and council member Michael Jackson cast the lone votes against the change, with both saying they believe the city should maintain its right to set individual restrictions on liquor license holders in the interest of public safety.
J&R is located at 650 Midland Road, just off Interstate 90/39 on the city’s east side.
Jackson, a former minister and operator of a private ambulance service, and Williams, a former tow truck operator, have both opposed expansion of liquor sales in the past. On Monday they said they believe that sales of beer or liquor by the can make it more likely that people will drink and drive and get in drunken-driving crashes.
Jackson pointed out that J&R is located just a few hundred feet from an Interstate on ramp and just across East Racine Street from a busy entryway to SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital-Janesville.
Yet of all the 28 retail stores that are licensed to sell beer and liquor in Janesville, including gas stations, liquor stores, box stores and grocery markets, only one retailer—J&R—has been restricted from selling single-serve containers of alcohol.
City attorney Wald Klymczyk said the city has the right to slap local restrictions on individual retail liquor licenses.
Benson and council President Douglas Marklein both said they think the city should revisit the issue of single-serve alcohol sales and vote on whether to allow or bar such sales at all locations rather than enforce a special restriction that affects just one retailer but not others.
Benson pointed out, as J&R staff argued to the liquor board last week, that J&R has had a “clean” record on liquor sales, with no recorded compliance violations in the 15 months J&R has held a license.
Benson also pointed out that at least a half-dozen other retail stores that sell liquor and beer, including the Aldi supermarket and the Mobil TA gas station along Humes Road, are near Interstate ramps and are visible to drivers who are exiting and entering I-90/39.
“Whether or not we think single-serve (alcohol) is a good idea, I think that we have to agree that we should apply our ordinances equally and fairly,” Benson said. “Without a very strong, rational basis, I think we can’t single out one business and apply rules to them separately.”
City Manager Mark Freitag said city staff reviewed the proximity of several retailers licensed to sell alcohol and found that seven stores were as close or nearly as close to an Interstate ramp as J&R.
Williams said he considers J&R a different breed of gas station from a larger gas station station such as the Mobil TA, which he said has a larger staff plus one licensed employee who oversees that store’s liquor store during all hours of operation.
Williams pointed out that J&R’s staffing is so spartan that at times, employees put a sign on the counter telling customers that if they want to get inside the store’s locked beer cooler, they must be accompanied by a manager.
Williams said he checked into J&R’s compliance track record and learned that in the 15 months the store has been allowed to sell alcohol, authorities had not tapped the store for a single compliance check. Williams indicated he was told that there weren’t necessarily enough resources for police to run compliance checks of the station.