Your View: Local liquor store is too close to school

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Your View: Local liquor store is too close to school
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By Kelley Litzner, Alexandria (File photo)

To the editor:
As an employee of the federal government, it never ceases to amaze me how often common sense and reason get lost in the muddle of red tape, rules and procedures that govern most of our processes. It appears that state governments are prone to the same weaknesses.

Two weeks ago, the parents of our Montessori school were dismayed to discover that a state-sponsored ABC liquor store was set to move next door to the school in Alexandria that cares for our children aged 2 through 5. Apparently without public comment or redress, the preschool will share a wall with a store that exclusively sells liquor to hundreds of people each day.

The vast majority of patrons that frequent ABC stores are no different than the parents of the children being taught next door. But liquor stores come with some basic realities atypical of a normal business.

The current location of this specific ABC store next, to a Giant grocery store has a consistent trickle of individuals loitering outside, either outright intoxicated or preparing to become that way while sitting in the parking lot. Just last week, when I went to the store to request the general manager’s contact information — which was not provided — I passed two men drinking in a pick-up truck near the front entrance.

As an adult man, it can be intimidating to walk into this store. According to the Department of Justice, nearly 40 percent of all violent crimes involve alcohol. I find it unimaginable to picture my 2-year-old daughter, her 20- plus classmates, and the four teachers who shepherd them through their day walking back and forth to school while these same patrons purchase and drink liquor next door.

Most people would agree that movement of a liquor store next to a school for small children is not conducive to the comfort and safety of the children, teachers and parents who attend the school. There is a very short list of retail stores that most taxpayers would find inappropriate located next to a school. Porn shops, tobacco retailers, gun stores and liquor stores top that list.

These establishments certainly have every right to exist, but locating a state-owned and operated liquor store next to a school for impressionable children is beyond the realm of reason and good sense. In two separate instances, Falls Church and Portsmouth already have protested similar locations of ABC stores near a church and a high school, respectively.

Safety concerns aside, moving an ABC store next door to our school will jeopardize its ability to retain and enroll new students. What new parent searching for a place to care for and teach their 2-year- old would overlook a liquor store next door?

Our school is a small business with two locations. ABC stores generated $140 million in profit for Virginia in 2014 due to excise and sales taxes placed on purchased beverages. By contrast, our school generates enough revenue to pay rent at two locations in Alexandria and D.C., employ eight to 10 teachers, and sup- port a small back office to keep the business running smoothly.

Breaking the lease for the current location — including renovation expenses and any associated penalties — would not put a dent in ABC’s budget. By contrast, an unexpected move to distance itself from the ABC store would cause catastrophic damage to our school’s business. ABC’s decision endangers the community of parents, teachers and children we’ve worked diligently to foster.

The new ABC location is slated to open in June, according to Susan Johnson, ABC’s director of real estate, who found the location and coordinated the lease on behalf of ABC stores. She also stated that the move is “temporary,” in that it will only last three years.

In other words, this liquor store will be located next door for the entire length of time that my daughter and her classmates will spend in pre-school.

ABC stores provide the state with revenue and a valid and necessary service for the sale and regulation of alcohol. But as parents and citizens, we need to face the simple reality that these stores sell a product and have a small subset of customers that distinguish them from other retailers.

Applying common sense, good business practices and keeping the well-being of local voters and taxpayers in mind all lead to the simple conclusion that movement of a state-owned liquor store directly next door to a preschool is a poor choice and one that must be rectified immediately for the well-being of our children and the community at large.

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