For the second time in its nearly seven years on Freret Street, the Las Acacias corner store is embroiled in a heated debate over its alcohol sales, drawing sharp opinions from neighbors on both sides of the question.
The store opened in early 2009 in the 4700 block of Freret, but when it moved two blocks down to the corner of Robert Street in 2011, the business required a conditional-use permit from the city in order to sell alcohol. That request sparked a strong neighborhood debate that ultimately led to a compromise in the form of a good-neighbor agreement mediated by City Councilwoman Stacy Head: Las Acacias could sell alcohol, but “no single beers are permitted to be sold, only beer packaged in six, 12- or 24-unit containers.”
In the past few months, however, Las Acacias owner Alba Sanabria has reached out to the Freret Neighbors United group again, asking to be able to sell single beers. Customers come in looking for a single beer on the way home from work, and she has to direct them to other businesses, she explained to the neighborhood association on Tuesday night — then watch them walk past her store with the beer in hand.
Some residents protested that no businesses on Freret should be selling alcohol for consumption on the street, but Sanabria argued that they can and do. To test the theory, resident Dart Stovall stepped out of the Freret Neighborhood Center (where the meeting with Sanabria was being held) with a few dollars in hand, then came back a few minutes later holding a bottle of beer. He paid $3 for it and tipped $1, he said, but declined to name the establishment that sold it to him since he hadn’t tried all of them.
Resident Jane Dimitry said she didn’t need Stovall’s experiment to know people are walking around on Freret with beers in hand, and said it points to a larger problem. Many of the businesses on Freret that needed conditional0use permits from the city signed good-neighbor agreements with Neighbors United similar to that with Las Acacias around the same time, Dimitry said, and now none of them are being enforced.
“I want to enforce it,” Dimitry said. “We have good-neighbor agreements with a number of organizations. We should enforce them all.”
Sanabria said she felt like her business was being more restricted than the others, and that the only reason she signed the agreement initially was that she risked going out of business without any alcohol sales at all after her move in 2011. The entire time she has been on Freret, she said, even in her original location where she could sell singles, she has never had any kind of criminal incident that would reflect badly on the street, and thus she should have earned the right to sell singles.
Further, Sanabria said that a technicality may render the initial good-neighbor agreement null anyway. According to a line on the fifth page of the document, “In the event another person, entity or corporation is permitted to operate a business in District B that is permitted to sell alcoholic beverages without executing an agreement such as this one, this agreement shall be deemed terminated.”
Scores of restaurants selling alcohol have opened since 2011 in City Council District B (which spans from Jefferson Avenue to the Central Business District), as well as more retail-focused establishments such as Martin Wine Cellar or various drug stores. If any other those were allowed to open “without executing an agreement such as this one,” Sanabria argued, she should no longer be bound by her own good-neighbor agreement.
“This thing is not even any good,” Sanabria said.
The debate continued for a solid hour among 20 to 30 people there, complete with accusations of neoliberal paternalism “ruining this town” and frustrated participants on both sides walking out of the room at various points. Ultimately, Neighbors United president Stan Norwood asked Sanabria to put in writing exactly the change that she wants, and it will be voted upon at the association’s next meeting, Sept. 8 at the Samuel Green Charter School.
In the meantime, Norwood promised to print flyers, send emails and do his best to make sure that all the residents in the association (between Jefferson Avenue and General Taylor Street, from South Claiborne Avenue to Dryades Street) know about the meeting.
“We need to get out as an organization anyway,” Norwood said. “We have new neighbors. Welcome — your voices can and will be heard.”
Meanwhile, Neighbors United is planning a fundraiser for the Evans Park Booster Club, perhaps a neighborhood-wide garage sale in the park. Residents also asked for more information on what after-school activities are taking place in the neighborhood, and Freret Neighborhood Center staff member Tonya Smith told them that the FNC has just hired a new director who will describe those plans soon.
To read our live coverage of the meeting, see below.