Bethel’s only operating liquor store will now be closed on Sundays. This past weekend was the last Sunday for AC Quickstop alcohol sales. Now the company has actively entered into a dialogue about the impact of alcohol on the city and surrounding area.
The decision to close on Sundays came after a chance encounter and a simple question.
Sharon Chakuchin lives in Bethel and was in Juneau with the Alaska Food Coalition. AC General Manager Walter Pickett was there, too. They met, and their conversation quickly turned to the liquor store.
“I asked him if they could look at if they could limit their hours," Chakuchin said. "He was not interested in hearing that idea.”
She was pressing for more restricted sales, saying that she sees a lot of problems related to alcohol in Bethel, where it's legal, and in surrounding villages, where it's not.
Then Chakuchin asked, "Why not just be closed on Sundays?" According to Chakuchin, Pickett responded with, "That’s a conversation I haven’t heard before.”
AC has now made Chakuchin's request a reality. A call by a nearby dry village for a disaster declaration due to the impact of alcohol has also gotten at least a phone call from AC. Pickett hopes that his conversation with Chakuchin was just the first he’ll have on how the store can better operate to make the community safer.
“We understand it’s a big accountability," Pickett said. "If there’s ideas and thoughts that we can do to reduce some of the problems associated with alcohol sales, by all means we’d be very welcome to hearing those.”
Pickett said that he had heard of Bethel Search and Rescue and the Bethel Police Department being overwhelmed by alcohol related problems, and the Sunday closure is partly aimed at relieving them.
Pickett is likely to hear more from the community, like EMS responding to more calls, the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation’s Sobering Center seeing more clients, and the Tundra Women’s Coalition dealing with more reported sexual assaults.
“I have not seen any specific statistics or been contacted by any of those groups directly,” Pickett said.
KYUK verified that EMS and the Tundra Women’s Coalition had not yet reached out, but they also said that AC had never offered to talk. It looks like that is changing.
“There has to be a partnership. There has to be a relationship, and we haven’t, and that’s the fault of AC," Pickett said. "I will take that accountability that we haven’t personally reached out to these groups, but there’s also the accountability we have not been approached by these groups.”
Pickett says that he reached out to the dry community of Napaskiak as well, but hasn't heard back yet. He acknowledged that alcohol entering any dry community is a problem. AC customers can currently only buy a dozen bottles at a time, a limit stricter than state regulation. AC also lets the State Troopers know about any purchase of a dozen bottles by a person whose listed residence is a dry village.
“We are concerned about that," Pickett said. "Socially, we have the responsibility to report that."
Pickett says that he's open to other solutions, including a do-not-sell-list of repeat alcohol offenders, though the legal aspects of that would have to be worked out.
The Bethel City Council decided to oppose the renewal of AC Quickstop's liquor license a month ago. The State Alcoholic Beverage Control Board has its next meeting to discuss the license early in May.