AC Quickstop Opens First Liquor Store In Bethel Since 1970s
AC Quickstop opened Bethel’s first liquor store since the city banned alcohol sales in 1977. The store opened at 11 a.m. Tuesday, May 3. KYUK reporter Anna Rose MacArthur showed up around a quarter till to find a line of around 10 people, waiting for the historic doors to open.
Stelmach: “I want to be the first customer that walked into the liquor store in Bethel after 40 years. I’m going to hold onto the receipt as well. I’ll plaque it. And say, hey, ‘This is to lifted prohibition.’”
Corey Stelmach is turning 40 this month, and today he could legally buy spirits in Bethel for the first time. But once the doors open, he has competition from Mike McIntyre to be the first customer.
McIntyre: “I’m buying Alaskan Amber, trying to beat Corey here to be the first one.”
Mike is at one cash register. Corey is at the other.
Stelmach: “We’ll consider ourselves the first ones.”
They pull out receipts to compare times.
Stelmach: “11:01. We’re both 11:01.”
KYUK: “What’d you buy?”
Stelmach: “I bought one bottle of Jameson, one bottle of Crown Royal, and two six packs of Corona. And I’m going to go enjoy them right now.”
Toni Tony is right behind them, buying a box of wine.
Tony: “T-o-n-i, and last name T-o-n-y”
She’s with her wife Christine Nick.
KYUK: “Are you going to enjoy the wine together today?”
Nick: “I am glad to say I’m happily sober. I’ve been sober more than seven to eight years.”
KYUK: “So you’re sober. What do you think about a liquor store opening in Bethel?”
Tony: “She was really mad.”
Nick: “I was mad at first, but I can’t do anything about it. I’m always there for her.”
James Kelly came with the couple. He’s Tony’s cousin and is hopeful that the liquor store will be a good thing for the community.
Kelly: “It’ll deter bootleggers to bootleg.”
The store’s already helped Jeremy Lee, one of the new security personnel. Lee had spent seven months applying for jobs before getting hired.
Lee: “I’m happy where I am. Cause now I can feed my kids more, and I can support my family. I’m looking at it as a family man.”
Lee says Bethel is in a new era. Those old times over 40 years ago when things got so bad that Bethel banned alcohol sales—he calls those the immature years.
But not everyone is so sure. Ignace Matthies bought a six-pack of Alaskan Amber, but says he’s torn about what legal sales mean for Bethel.
KYUK: “What’s that like to be able to now come into a liquor store in Bethel?”
Matthies: “It’s kinda really uncomfortable. It’s going to be hard for the community.”
KYUK: “So you’re conflicted about it?”
Matthies: “Yeah. Yes.”
Bethel lifted its ban on alcohol sales seven years ago. The public was also conflicted, citing fatigue with the stiff penalties of restricted sales but not really embracing legal sales. A community vote in 2010 showed a majority of people opposed legal alcohol sales. But that trend reversed last year when another vote showed a majority supported sales, but only for a package store like AC. The Quickstop received its license a month later.
The liquor store is a small white box—a former storage area. Wine, beer, and spirits line the few shelves behind the service counter. Walter Pickett, AC general manger, says the selection is a fifth of what it’ll be in the fall when the store completes its more than million-dollar renovation and expansion. For now, he says, it’s mostly bestsellers from their other stores.
Pickett: “Spirits— R&R is the best seller. The best seller on the beer is Budweiser by far. Coors Lite is second there. And then our customers do like box wine, because it’s portable.”
KYUK: “So there were three people behind the counter, two people ready to grab stock, two security guys, and then a host of four managers plus yourself. Why so many people?”
Pickett: “Just on the side of caution, making sure we had enough people to ensure the transactions were orderly and that it didn’t get overwhelmed in here.”
Pickett says the opening wasn’t exactly the mad rush they were preparing for. Others in town are also bracing for possible impacts. Both the Bethel police and fire chiefs expect call volume will increase with the store’s opening. Facebook comments predict inevitable death and abuse. But no one knows what’s going to happen.
One of the first customers, John McIntyre, who bought a six-pack of Blue Moon and a bottle of rum, says whatever does happens, will say a lot about Bethel.
McIntyre: “I do think it’s time we grew up. There’s legal booze sales in Dillingham, McGrath, Nome, Kotzebue. If it doesn’t work here it’s us, not the booze.”
The store earned about $1,350 in the first hour and served more than 500 customers throughout the day.