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Board approves beer-wine license for Racing Mart

Date: 8/17/2010

Aug. 18, 2010

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

SPRINGFIELD -- Despite opposition from two neighborhood councils, the Board of License Commissioners approved a new beer and wine license for the Racing Mart gas station and convenience store at 685 Sumner Ave. on Aug. 12.

Attorney Thomas Rooke representing Rick Abiassaf, the owner of the Racing Mart, asserted the neighborhood of Forest Park, the largest in the city, was underserved and 642 residents signed a petition supporting the license application. About 20 supporters attended the meeting.

Rooke maintained the neighborhood had only two package stores selling beer and wine, Eddie's and Forest Park Liquors and the two establishments were far enough away from one another about one mile to create a hardship for residents who do not own a car.

Rooke said Abiassaf has a long history working in the retail side of the liquor business and has owned the Racing Mart since February 2007. Rooke added Abiassaf has installed a 32-camera security system on the property.

Jane Hetzel, president of the Forest Park Civic Association (FPCA), said the neighborhood group voted to oppose the new license because in part, "there is plenty of liquor in the neighborhood." She cited additional outlets for beer and wine such as The Food Zone grocery store and the Dickinson Deli.

Abiassaf's refusal at that meeting to promise not to sell single cans of beer contributed to the group's decision.

Lynn Nolan, president of the LaBroad Neighborhood Council, also said her group opposed the license.

Residents speaking against the license cited concerns about increases in illegal activities that could accompany the availability of more beer and wine.

Although the Planning Board voted against the license at its meeting, Rooke said the city's professional planning staff approved it with some conditions. He charged the FPCA has always been in opposition of any additional liquor license in the neighborhood.

Abiassaf did say at the License Commission meeting he would accept a condition on his license not to sell single cans or bottles of beer. Board Chair Peter Sygnator explained the commission could not impose such a restriction due to state law.

Sygnator -- who was the lone vote against the application -- said within a 1.1-mile radius of the Racing Mart there are seven retail outlets selling beer and wine. He said the guidelines on granting new licenses from the state's Alcohol Beverage Control Commission put an emphasis on whether or not an area has sufficient access to liquor.

There were no seconds to Sygnator's motion to reject the application and three members -- Denise Kelcey, Robert Casey and Juan Rivera -- voted to approve the license. Melvin McLaurin abstained from the vote.

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