A proposed convenience store on Sixth Street can't get any traction with city officials because the owners want to sell packages of wine and beer.
The Public Safety and Licensing Committee voted 3-0 Monday night to deny a license for a proposed store at 420 Sixth St. The vote practically dooms the store, which was opposed by several Sixth Street business owners.
James and Caroline Chun had proposed opening a convenience store that would sell basic groceries and household items along with prepackaged beer and wine. The couple had initially applied for a full liquor license, but that was rejected back in April.
Alan Bagg, the owner of Corporate Images at 417 Sixth St., told the committee during a public hearing that the convenience store would disrupt a "fragile area."
"A bad fit is a bad business for everyone else," Bagg said.
Fritz Cape, the owner of 302 and 304 Sixth St., said there was already a large concentration of liquor licenses on the street.
"It's not in keeping with the vision of a revitalized Sixth Street," said Cape, whose wife, former Alderwoman Cherri Cape, also spoke against the proposal. Cherri is also the owner of Moxie Child at 304 Sixth St.
Jeff Shawhan, the owner of The Elements Gallery at 409 Sixth St., wondered why the committee was considering a proposal it had already rejected. "What's changed in those few months?" he asked.
Several people spoke in favor of the store. A petition with 61 names supporting the business was submitted and members of the Racine LiberTEA party attended the hearing to speak in favor of the proposal.
Elizabeth Jones, who owns the building at 612 6th St., said the convenience store was a good fit for the area, even if it sold alcohol.
"I don't think we should be discouraging business," she said.
Blogger and Downtown business owner Dennis Navratil argued the city doesn't have problems with businesses that sell packaged alcohol, and pointed out businesses like Uncorkt and the former Braun's and Historic Century Market never have had a problem.
Navratil also pointed out Downtown has at least 20 vacant buildings, which would seem the indicate the need to attract new businesses. If Downtown bars are creating problems, he said, take away their licenses, don't punish a convenience store that's never opened.
Kate Remington, who owns a building at 613 Sixth St., said the convenience store would be a nice addition for Sixth Street residents. "We don't have a grocery store. We get hungry," Remington said.
But ultimately the committee members were unswayed by arguments for the store, and its chances are now slim of getting the needed two-thirds majority support from the City Council. With Aldermen Aron Wisneski, Jim Kaplan and Terry McCarthy voting against the license, one woud have to switch their vote and the rest of the City Council would need to support the Chun's for them to receive a license. That's unlikely because Alderman Jeff Coe, whose district includes Sixth Street, spoke against the proposal.
The two-thirds majority vote is required because the City Council recently passed an ordinance limiting the number of "Class A" liquor licenses in the city. Two-thirds of the City Council would need to make an exception to the freshly enacted ordinance to allow the Chuns to sell beer and wine.
Opposition to the convenience store is a blow for local businessman Michael Choi, who has opened three successful restaurants in the Sixth Street area (Shogun, Asiana and Olde Madrid). He spoke to the committee and pointed out that it makes no sense for him to open a business that would harm is surrounding restaurants. He also said the convenience store would be a better fit for Sixth Street than a vacant storefront.
"This is not a packaged liquor store," Choi said. "It's a convenience store that sells packaged liquor."
But the aldermen, set in their belief that alcohol will harm Sixth Street, were unconvinced.
Kaplan actually said the site at 420 Sixth St. was a "perfect place" for a convenience store. But he said selling alcohol in the store was a deal breaker. McCarthy and Wisneski made similar comments and suggested the Chuns open without selling alcohol.
But the Chuns had earlier shut down that idea, estimating alcohol sales would make up 25 percent of their business.
Ironically, shortly before the committee rejected the Chuns' license they paved the way for Keith Fair to reopen the Tango Bar on Sixth Street. Fair is planning to reopen the bar by Labor Day.