It can take what seems forever to shut down a liquor store once a city council in Iowa decides to take away the store’s license.
Proof of that is the Liquor & Tobacco Point store, 1545 First Ave. SE, which sits on the border of two of the city’s urban neighborhoods, Wellington Heights and Mound View.
In early September and after protests from neighborhood leaders, the Police Department, which had approved a liquor license for the store in July, notified the store that it was in violation of city law: It was within 300 feet of a church, which, in this instance is the storefront church called Mission of Hope.
On Oct. 8, the Cedar Rapids City Council revoked the license of the liquor store, which was just opening.
It looked like a victory for the neighborhood leaders at something of a noteworthy spot. It is across busy First Avenue East from the still-new Hy-Vee Food Store, which was designed to be, with the help of significant City Hall financial incentives, a commitment and a catalyst to bring new life to a highly visible spot in the middle of two struggling neighborhoods.
However, the Oct. 8 vote by the City Council vote appeared not to matter at all.
Liquor & Tobacco Point stayed open. It is open. And it dispatched its attorney to move the dispute into the molasses of the appeal process at the state’s Alcohol Beverages Division.
Now, nearly five months later, the city and the neighborhood leaders have learned that they have won vindication from Margaret LaMarche, a state administrative law judge. In a ruling dated Feb. 25, LaMarche concludes that Liquor & Tobacco Point, indeed, should close and that the owner’s liquor license be rescinded to operate at the First Avenue East location.
In her 12-page ruling, LaMarche takes note that the Cedar Rapids Police Department had given the store a liquor license not realizing that the location was too close to a church. For that reason, the judge concluded that owner Rabbani Wahidy, of Cedar Falls, should have the license in Cedar Rapids rescinded rather than having his license to operate in Iowa revoked. He has another store in Cedar Falls.
But that is far from the end of it.
Carter Stevens, an attorney in Cedar Falls, said last week that the state appeal process pushes on.
He reported that he has 30 days to continue the appeal to Lynn Walding, the director of the state’s Alcohol Beverages Division.
Walding acknowledged last week that it could take as long as another four, five or six months before the state agency works through procedural steps and then makes a final decision in the case. Then Liquor & Tobacco Point can go to court to challenge any ruling unfavorable to the store.
In the meantime, the Mission of Hope church has begun to display a sign on its front window, seeking help from donors that will enable the 7-year-old church find a new location.
In what might be a year that it will take to close the liquor store down, the reason to close it – its proximity to a church – might vanish.
What will remain is the sentiment of the neighborhood leaders that their neighborhoods needed a bright, shiny new grocery store and that they don’t need another liquor store, tobacco store or payday loan store.