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UPDATE: Walgreens goes 0-for-4 in pursuit of liquor permits

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None of the four Indianapolis stores in which Walgreen Co. wanted to sell alcohol received approval to do so on Monday.

Marion County's Alcoholic Beverage Board unanimously denied Walgreen Co.’s request for a permit to sell alcohol at its store on East Washington Street in Irvington, citing neighborhood opposition.

The board later deadlocked, 2-2, on whether to grant the Illinois-based drugstore chain’s request to sell alcohol at its store at 1505 E. 86th St. near North Central High School. The Indiana Alcohol & Tobacco Commission could make a decision on the applications at its Aug. 17 meeting, or remand the request back to the board.

Earlier, the drugstore chain withdrew its applications to sell alcohol at two other Indianapolis stores.

It dropped plans to sell booze at its 3003 Kessler Blvd. North Drive location, given its proximity to Cardinal Ritter High School and other educational institutions. It also gave up on alcohol sales at the 9050 E. 38th St. store because of community opposition.

The local Alcoholic Beverage Board makes recommendations on permit applications to the state Alcohol & Tobacco Commission, which has the final say on such matters. The state agency has voted to allow Walgreens to sell alcohol at 18 of the Marion County stores the local board approved.

A lack of resistance present at Monday’s meeting regarding the East 86th Street store prompted board member Arthur Borel to vote in favor. But fellow member Jennifer Ping cited her appointment by the City-County Council for her “no” vote.

A letter she received from Council President Ryan Vaughn, who mentioned the store’s close proximity to North Central High School, made the difference.

“That’s why he asked us to vote against this,” Ping said, “so I’m going to respect and honor his request.”

Opposition to the Irvington store at 5460 E. Washington St., however, was much more evident.

City-County Councilor Benjamin Hunter, along with Irvington resident Brian Mack, a former president of the Irvington Community Council, presented arguments to oppose the request.

Responding to a Walgreens petition that indicated support for alcohol sales, Mack responded, “If I was a business owner and I wanted to sell guns or lap dances, I could find enough people to support it,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean it’s an asset to the neighborhood.”

Concerns over alcohol sales contributing to more crime in the Irvington neighborhood, as well as an already-ample supply of liquor locations, led board members to deny the request.

That the Walgreens store on East Washington Street locks up basic items such as deodorant and shampoo because of the frequency in which they are stolen swayed board member Claudia Cummings to deny the request.

“If you have to lock up those items,” she said, “that indicates you’ve got a problem there with shoplifting.”
 
Still, attorney Lisa McKinney Goldner, a lawyer at Indianapolis-based Bose McKinney & Evans LLP who represents Walgreens, remained hopeful that the state Alcohol & Tobacco Commission will approve the request for the East 86th Street store.

“We’re trying to answer a need and desire,” she said. “I think there’s a lot of misunderstanding. We believe we’re different.”

While presenting Walgreens' case, Goldner listed several additional security measures the stores would take to combat shoplifting and selling to minors.

Neighborhood groups have been up in arms about Walgreens’ plans for months, saying additional alcohol sales could lead to more crime.

Representatives from Drug Free Marion County and the Marion County Alliance of Neighborhood Associations have expressed opposition to the new alcoholic beverage permits.

Walgreens stopped selling alcohol more than a decade ago. But competition, mainly from rival Rhode Island-based CVS Caremark Corp., is prompting the change in policy.

Altogether, Walgreens wants to sell alcohol in 183 stores throughout the state. Besides the stores in Marion County, all have received approval, except for a handful in Lake County.
 
The Marion County Alcoholic Beverage Board is set to vote on six more Walgreens locations at its Oct. 4 meeting. Those have been delayed due to zoning issues.

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