A Janesville gas station that has sold alcohol just off Interstate 90/39 for more than a year is asking the city to lift a restriction from its liquor license that bars the station from selling beer by the can.
The Janesville city council on Monday will review a request by J&R Express Mart that the city repeal a restriction it wrote into the gas station’s initial, class-A liquor license in 2020 that prohibited the station at 650 Midland Road from selling single-serve beer, liquor and malt beverages.
The station is located off Highway 14 within a couple hundred feet of an entrance ramp at a typically busy stretch of Interstate 90/39.
J&R’s owners and staff have asked for the change to accommodate customers who say they want the convenience of buying a single serving of beer or alcohol rather than a 12- or 24-pack of alcohol.
Janesville City Clerk Lori Stottler said a check of all Janesville retailers that hold class A liquor licenses shows that J&R is the only retailer whose liquor license restricts the sale of single-serve alcohol.
“We’re the only one who is restricted like this, and it almost seems kind of like a punishment,” Riley Rollette, a supervising clerk at J&R, told The Gazette. “We have built a separate liquor box in the store, we run it responsibly, and we have a completely spotless record as a responsible retailer. Yet we’re still not allowed to sell a single can of beer, I’m not sure I understand the significance of the reasons why.”
Nevertheless, half the members of the city’s liquor board at a meeting Tuesday opposed J&R’s request. Two members of the panel said they wanted the restriction in place to prevent travelers from buying single cans of beer or liquor at the gas station and then drinking them in their vehicles as they drive on I-90/39.
On Tuesday, the Janesville Alcohol License Advisory Committee were deadlocked, 3-3, on J&R’s request. The panel typically makes recommendations on liquor licenses and requested changes to liquor licenses, but the tie vote means the liquor board’s split decision will be being forwarded to the city council without a recommendation.
Rollette told The Gazette he’s not surprised the liquor board got hung up on his request. He pointed out that in 2020, the city council granted J&R a license by overriding a 4-3 recommendation from the liquor board against allowing J&R to sell alcohol at all.
Rollette said over the last 15 months that the station has sold alcohol, employees have worked hard to comply with local rules on liquor sales. And during that time he said the station has had a clean record selling alcohol, with no reported underage sales.
“We just wanted to revisit it (the restriction on single-serving sales). It’s been over a year. I think we’ve kind of proven ourselves,” Rollette said.
In a presentation to the liquor board on Tuesday, Rollette told the panel that travelers who stay overnight at a nearby hotel, and some local “regular” customers, have repeatedly requested that his store offer single-serve alcohol.
Rollette said he’s measured the distance of the interstate exits from entries of multiple class A liquor sellers who are allowed to sell single-serving cans and bottles of beer and or liquor, including the Mobil Travel Centers of America Station, Wal-Mart and Festival Foods.
Rollette said those other stores all are located nearly as close to the Interstate as J&R is. He suggested it’s equally likely people could buy a single can of beer or liquor at those locations and drink it in their cars.
Rollette told the liquor board doesn’t ask customers if they plan to drink alcohol in their car. He said he considers it an “inappropriate” question for a retailer to ask.
Paul Benson, the council’s vice president and also a member of the Alcohol License Advisory committee, on Tuesday made a motion that the ALAC recommend removing J&R’s restriction.
Paul Williams, a city council member who also is the chairman of the Alcohol License Advisory Committee, voted against the move. Williams has opposed liquor license expansions multiple times in recent years.
Williams, a former tow truck operator, said he believes the city already is saturated with retail liquor and beer sellers. He is among liquor board members who say they think J&R is too close to a major highway interchange to sell single-can alcohol.
“I was kind of surprised that we don’t have more restrictions on single-serving (alcohol) sales, especially around ones (stores) that are located next to major highways. I’m not sure that the police department tracks that very well. I’m not sure how they can,” Williams said on Tuesday.
“I still don’t believe that the single-serving (alcohol) sale for someone who is going to get on the highway and drive to the Dells is going to make it to the destination” before the drink gets illegally consumed by someone in the vehicle, Williams said.