Nestled in a residential neighborhood in Scotlandville, the Neighborhood Mini Pack grocery store is alive with activity before 10 a.m.
But instead of eggs and juice, which might be considered predictable morning fare, these customers leave the tiny store with single beers in hand.
That’s not the kind of activity Scotlandville resident and community activist Pat LeDuff wants in her community.
Within a square mile, there are at least two other mini markets which are driven by alcohol sales.
LeDuff, co-founder of Citizens Against Drugs and Violence, said too much accessibility to alcohol in her neighborhood and other low-income communities hinders their ability to improve.
“You have young people who have dropped out of school, they’re sitting around doing nothing, and with the little money they do have, they go buy alcohol,” she said. “It keeps them falling down, and I don’t know how we can move our community forward from that.”
It’s for reasons like this, that Councilwoman Tara Wicker is attempting to change city-parish ordinances to prevent liquor stores from setting up in low-income areas already overrun with alcohol outlets.
On Wednesday, the Metro Council is expected to consider a 90-day moratorium on applying for liquor licenses in six neighborhoods marked by high crime and poverty: Old South Baton Rouge, Scotlandville Gateway, Zion City/Glen Oaks, Melrose East, Northdale and Choctaw Corridor.
The moratorium, Wicker said, is intended to buy time while she explores policy changes that would regulate the number of liquor outlets in certain areas.
“It’s long overdue, and it should have been looked at a long time ago,” Wicker said. “It’s not an easy issue, but it’s necessary and economically it’s going to help these neighbors.”
There are more than 940 licensed establishments selling alcohol in East Baton Rouge Parish that fall into the category of restaurant, bar or package store, said ABC Director Chris Cranford.
Package stores include liquor stores, supermarkets, gas stations or anywhere else packaged alcohol is purchased.
The densest concentration of package stores is north of Government Street and west of Airline Highway, making up 115 stores selling alcohol within about 6 square miles of mostly low- to medium-income neighborhoods, according to a map provided by the Office of Alcoholic Beverage Control that details the parish’s licensed businesses.
South of Florida Boulevard there are several clusters of liquor outlets parishwide, but they are typically matched or outnumbered by clusters of restaurants serving alcohol in the same area, according to the map.
But in the area north of Government Street and west of Airline Highway, package liquor outlets outnumber restaurants serving alcohol, almost 5-to-1.
A 2008 study of alcohol availability suggested that alcohol outlets are more concentrated in minority and lower-income neighborhoods.
The study titled “Alcohol Availability and Neighborhood Characteristics in Los Angeles, California and Southern Louisiana,” found that alcohol outlet frequency in an area was linked to poverty, male unemployment rates and households receiving public assistance.
Similarly, it has been linked to other social problems including violent assault, alcohol-related car accidents and fatalities and sexually transmitted disease rates, according to the report.
Wicker said she plans to define “over saturation” of liquor outlets in an area, which would help the ABC board use it as criteria when considering license applications.
Wicker also intends to put teeth into the policy requiring license-seekers to notify neighbors.
“The signs they’re putting up now to notify the community are very small,” Wicker said. “Unless you know what you’re looking for, you wouldn’t see it.”
She said she wants mailers sent to neighbors within a 300-foot radius notifying them that the business will be seeking a liquor license which gives them the chance to protest it at ABC board meetings.
Wicker is also seeking zoning classification changes which would distinguish between grocery stores and liquor stores.
She said most of the low-income neighborhoods in the parish lack local supermarkets.
“When these stores pop up, people think there’s no real need to protest a supermarket because that’s what we want,” Wicker said. “But what we’re really getting is just a glorified liquor store.”
LeDuff agreed that a distinction is needed.
She said the stores in her neighborhood have become “club stops” where people come to socialize and drink into the late hours.
One store, P&S Grocery, which serves alcohol and some snack foods stays open until midnight.
“People buying groceries don’t shop after 10 p.m.,” she said.
At least two council members have expressed concern that Wicker’s plans could hurt business owners.
“You’re impeding on the free market,” said Councilman Rodney “Smokie” Bourgeois, who is a business owner. “Who’s to say what’s too many? Usually the market determines what’s too many and what’s enough.”
But Councilwoman Ronnie Edwards, whose district includes Zion City/Glen Oaks, said the overall impact of the regulations will benefit the entire parish.
“Vulnerable neighborhoods become prey to the least healthy lifestyle choices and as a result the tax paying public pay the consequences of irresponsible public policy,” Edwards said.
Wicker previously asked for a 60-day moratorium in Old South Baton Rouge in June.
The moratorium resulted in one business owner being denied a liquor license. He subsequently sued the city-parish and was granted a waiver.
Assistant Parish Attorney Joseph Scott said under the new proposed moratorium, any applications already submitted will be processed under current regulations.