Bethel became a different town after the AC Quickstop liquor store opened in 2016. Police and emergency services reported strained resources and higher calls for public intoxication. Residents say that Pinky’s Park was littered with broken glass and passed out people, but much of that has changed since the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Board refused to renew AC's liquor license in May and the store abruptly shut down.
Bethel resident Shari Neth says that she couldn’t walk her dog in Pinky’s Park because of all the broken glass. Now with the liquor store closed, that hasn’t been a problem.
"I was gone when it closed, but when I came back I was walking the dog and there was no glass on the boardwalk and it was almost as if someone had lifted a blanket off the community," Neth said. "It was so much more peaceful."
Daniel Andrew and his girlfriend Andrea Joe moved to Bethel last summer and winter. Andrew says that his parents were worried. They told him that it wasn’t safe to go out late at night.
"My family used to be scared of me walking around alone, especially at 9 p.m.," Andrew said.
Joe lives in a rental house across from the former liquor store with her 20-month old son. Joe says now she can take her son out late at night for a walk.
Emergency services and the police department also felt the strain. Thomas Haviland is the third in command at the Bethel Fire Department and says that the department saw a 30 percent spike in calls for intoxication once the store opened.
“For a town our size, it’s a lot of calls," Haviland said.
Since the store closed in May, those calls are starting to slow down. Official numbers are not in yet, say both Thomas and Police Chief Burke Waldron, but both men reported a drop in alcohol-related calls in the weeks after the store closed.
The first Alcohol Task Force meeting post-closure reflected the difference too. The meetings are usually packed and have lasted for hours, but this time hardly any of the chairs for the public were occupied and the meeting took under an hour. But Task Force members say that the problem with alcohol isn’t going away anytime soon. Eileen Arnold, Executive Director of the Tundra Women’s Coalition, is worried about the future.
"We’re still going to have the same [rate] of alcohol-influenced crime," Arnold said." It’s still going to be the biggest resource suck."
Waldron confirmed that even though they had a drop in calls after AC closed its liquor store, those calls are starting to climb back up again. The question now is how to tackle the problem before Bethel residents go to the polls in October to decide whether or not to have legal sales in town.
The post has been updated to clarify a statement from Eileen Arnold, executive director of the Tundra Women's Coalition.