There are too many liquor stores, bars and other places that sell alcohol too close to schools, parks and churches in neighborhoods where children are present, and residents and community leaders want to curb their proliferation.
“Research has shown that students on a liquor route were more likely to be offered drugs, to be exposed to the selling of drugs or seeing people using drugs. Those are all increased safety concerns,” East St. Louis School District 189 Superintendent Arthur Culver said.
Culver said liquor stores also have been associated with more traffic injuries, alcohol consumption, and violent crimes. “I encourage residents and city officials to honestly consider if another liquor store is helpful or harmful to our children and our community,” he said.
Many of these liquor shops are congregated along State Street. In one case, a nightclub that’s been the subject of numerous police calls over the years operates across the street from the Clyde Jordan Senior Center.
There are 17 places that sell liquor in the Edgemont area, which is roughly considered the area between State Street and St. Clair Avenue, and from North 76th Street west to North 89th Street, or Illinois 157. In that same area, there are two churches, a proposed park and Katie Wright Elementary School.
Debra Moore, who recently spoke out on the subject at a City Council meeting, said children walk past these businesses on their way to school and the playground.
“Children often patronize these establishments to purchase snacks and sodas. A fear here is that the children come in contact with individuals who are impaired and are back at the business to get further intoxicated and possibly pose a threat to the young person, or perhaps entice the under-aged person into drinking and forming a habit that leads him into a downhill spiral,” she said.
Moore, who is the St. Clair County administrator and lives in East St. Louis, said the city can clamp down on this problem by issuing fewer liquor licenses.
“Some of the store owners sell single cigarettes and liquor by the bottle. There are people hanging around who are impaired. And you expect children to be safe?” she asked. “You expose the community to crime and the elements associated with crime. Many of the individuals who use those stores discard bottles and cans and other trash on the ground as they leave the stores.”
Moore said there’s also concern for homeowners and longtime residents in the area.
“It is my observation that surrounding communities do not have multiple stores like this within a five- or six-block area. There appears to be a greater desire to maintain the integrity of their residential areas” she said.
Some of the store owners sell single cigarettes and liquor by the bottle. There are people hanging around who are impaired. And you expect children to be safe?
Deborah Moore, St. Clair County administrator
By ordinance, the city can issue up to 81 liquor licenses, but there currently are only 47, according to Deputy Liquor Commissioner Hope Whitehead.
Whitehead said she has been aggressively enforcing the ordinances in place. She said a store recently was fined $3,000 for selling single cigarettes to minors, and one business was closed for repeatedly violating city ordinances.
“We have public hearings for violations all of the time. But, we are introducing public hearings for applicants, too, so people can have an opinion before we issue a license,” Whitehead said.
East St. Louis Mayor Emeka Jackson-Hicks said most of the liquor stores and bars in the city were there when she took office. The city now holds public hearings “to allow the public to have input in the decisions involving areas where they live. They can tell us if they want these stores or not in the areas where they live,” said Jackson-Hicks, who also is the city’s liquor commissioner.
Dorothy Joshway, a lifelong resident and longtime observer of city government, said the number of outstanding liquor licenses should be reduced to reflect the city’s population.
“Citizens deserve more than being able to walk to the nearest liquor store or drive through for alcohol and to see bottles on vacant lots and private property,” Joshway said. “Our children deserve more than seeing adults in a drunken stupor, thinking that behavior of this kind is an acceptable lifestyle and an appropriate role model.”
Store owners have ‘a right to make a living’
Rosh Soni, owner of State Street Convenient Market, says he does not sell any liquor or tobacco products to underage youth.
“We check IDs before we sell liquor or cigarettes. You have to be 18 to purchase cigarettes,” he said.
Soni added, “We care about the health of the community we serve and we do not sell them products they are not legally able to buy,” but he said he “has a right to make a living,” and that is all he is doing.
Soni said he does not allow loitering outside and around his business. He added his business is not open late as some are.
Joe Kahli, owner of the Mobile Gas Mart at 83rd and State streets, said when he sees loiterers on his property, he runs them off. The business is open from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m. Some citizens have complained about the amount of debris and trash strewn around at and near the business, but Kahli said he pays two people to keep his lot clean.
“I am a businessman. I am here to do business. But, I do understand the health side of it and I am concerned about people’s health, especially young people. I live here, too,” he said.
They use those stores as a substitute grocery store. They buy food that is not healthy and it’s over priced. It’s a no-win situation.
The Rev. Jerome Rogers, New Shining Light Missionary Baptist Church
The Rev. Jerome Rogers, pastor of New Shining Light Missionary Baptist Church, said he has always had concerns about the number of stores selling liquor in the city. He said they make it easier for teens to get into vices at a younger age that can affect their future.
“They use those stores as a substitute grocery store. They buy food that is not healthy and it’s over priced. It’s a no-win situation,” he said.
The Rev. Zachary Lee, pastor of Mount Paran Baptist Church, said he has heard about a lot of negative things going on at the liquor-selling establishments such as selling single cigarettes to young people and underage liquor sales.
“We don’t need any more liquor stores. Seventeen should be enough. We need community centers, healthy stores for people to shop, hobby shops and craft stores. These kinds of businesses can be found in other communities. Our young people need to see something other than a whole lot of negatives,” he said.
Lee said he also has heard stories of drug dealers hanging outside of these businesses and peddling their wares, without regard for the age of their customers. This leads to an increase in crime.
“Children can walk on any corner and buy anything. It’s horrible,” said Nathaniel McCloud, Democratic Precinct 20 committeeman. “The kids are drinking before they go to school and before they go to parties.”
Citizens have weighed in as well, saying many of the stores are owned by people who don’t live in East St. Louis and who do not have a real stake in the community.
“They would not sell liquor, cigarette papers or single cigarettes or one bottle of beer to the young people in their own communities,” resident Christine Jackson said.
Resident Jesse Dillard said parents need to do a better job of teaching their children not to go into those businesses. “The kids are raising themselves. Parents are not home and young people are too busy worrying about themselves. When you put yourself first and forget about the younger children, they do whatever.”
Joshway believes State Street, a main thoroughfare in the city, should reflect a positive image “instead of presented as a disgrace.”
“We need to showcase what the city has to offer,” she said.
Carolyn P. Smith: 618-239-2503