Last night, the Bethel City Council voted not to protest the liquor license transfer from Kusko Liquor to The North West Company, which does business in Bethel as Alaska Commercial Company or AC. The vote was 5-1, with council member Leif Albertson the only member to support the protest. Mitchell Forbes was absent on travel.
Vice-Mayor Thor Williams said that protesting AC would be unfair, given what they do for the city.
“We thank them for giving us money for buying us an ambulance, and we thank them for doing other things in the community,” Williams said. “I get this mixed message that it’s okay to give to us on our terms, but you can’t do what you’re trying to do as a business.”
“I don’t think the amount that we got for an ambulance came close to paying for the calls that we went on with it, or the suffering and economic losses that we had from alcohol use,” Albertson replied. He said that AC has already shown how it sells alcohol in Bethel. “The best indicator for future performance is past performance,” said Albertson.
Albertson’s protest was based on statistics that showed alcohol-related incidents like deaths and domestic violence were higher when AC was in business than they are now with Caribou Traders. Representative for AC, Jeff Cichosz, didn’t think that was a fair comparison.
“It had been the first time to sell alcohol in Bethel for 40 years,” Cichosz said. “And I think just the newness and the pains, that was a lot of it. We’ve learned a lot since then.”
AC does have plans to run its alcohol business differently this time around, and has outlined those changes in a plan it submitted to the city. Vice Mayor Williams agreed that AC made mistakes in the past, but he said that shutting them out is not the solution.
“Do we want AC to be a better community member concerning the sale of liquor in our community?” Williams asked. “Yes. How do you do that? By inviting them into the community and saying, 'Hey, you need to be a part of that community.'”
AC received its conditional use permit two weeks ago. Now the retailer only needs approval from the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, which will meet on July 9 to decide whether AC will once again be permitted to sell alcohol in Bethel. If AC is approved, it may face stricter alcohol laws than last time. Last night, the council introduced an ordinance to add stricter rules around purchasing and consuming alcohol. These rules include limiting purchases to two bottles of hard liquor per day, reducing business hours for stores, and making it easier for police to arrest people drinking in public.
There is another local option petition that is currently circulating that aims to restrict alcohol sales in Bethel to just restaurants.