The classist campaign against Nate’s Crown Liquor Store

After a recent Denver Homeless Out Loud meeting, Tim and Aurora Correa, owners of Aztlan Theatre, told some of us about the struggles of their business neighbor, Nate’s Crown Liquor Store, to stay open in the face of an assault against them by neighboring businesses.

Some of us went to last Thursday’s hearing re: whether the City’s Department of Excise and Licensing will renew the liquor license of Nate’s Crown Liquor Store at 11th and Santa Fe. The hearing we went to was devoted to hearing people who opposed renewal of the liquor license. It went quite late and I heard only three of the speakers but believe two or three others spoke, plus more were going to speak another night. This hearing has been continuing for several evenings I believe.

On Monday Feb 24th at 6pm in the License Renewal room on the second floor of the Webb Building (201 W Colfax), the store owners/managers will have their chance to testify, as will any others who want to speak in favor of the liquor license renewal. Both Raul, the manager of Nate’s, and our friends Tim and Aurora Correa, who own Aztlan Theatre, are hoping people will come to this hearing to support Nate’s effort to retain its liquor license. 

What is going on here? As best I can figure it out, from being at the hearing and also talking to Raul, the manager of Nate’s, a group of businesses around Nate’s at 11th and Santa Fe want Nate’s to close, because they believe having a store that sells alcohol to homeless people brings down the neighborhood and negatively impacts their businesses. Among the businesses that are working together to close Nate’s are a beauty salon, a Tai Chi studio, a veterinarian, a clothing/gift shop, and an architectural design firm. Raul showed us a stack of letters complaining about Nate’s that several businesses had written to the Excise and License Department.

Indeed, Nate’s, a neat, brightly painted, traditional little liquor store, stands in stark contrast to the earth-toned businesses around it. They are upscale, while it is…down-home, just itself, a remnant of the sort of businesses that surely dotted the neighborhood before gentrification and trendiness set in.

At the hearing I went to, the owners of the beauty salon and of the veterinary practice spoke, as well as a police officer. Both owners testified that people, purportedly customers of Nate’s, would drink in the area around their businesses, fight, panhandle and frighten customers, urinate, litter, come in to use their bathrooms, etc. The salon owner said such people made it hard for her to “grow our brand” with the community and also said it makes her sad that the liquor store makes a living “preying on these people “ (the so-called “habitual drunkards” ). (Why is it that whenever someone wants to screw homeless folks they say they’re doing it to protect them??) Asked by the city attorney whether she saw similar problems around the liquor stores on east Colfax, where her business was previously located, she said she did not–which I personally find very hard to believe. (And why was the city attorney asking such leading questions, aimed at skewering Nate’s?)

The veterinarian said inebriated people camp out on his property, and that they ruined the garden he spent $6000 to put in. He submitted many photos he’d taken of people and trash on and near his property–including people in the act of urinating–during the last two years. Yet he insisted that most of the people weren’t homeless, and that he resented the insinuation that “homeless” and “alcohol addicted” are synonymous.

On cross examination, both business owners had to agree they did not know whether the people bothering their customers, urinating in the alley, fighting, and throwing trash and bottles in the area were actually customers of Nate’s or not–nor did they know whether the bottles were from Nate’s.

The complainers accuse Nate’s of selling alcohol to intoxicated customers, in violation of State statute. Asked by Nate’s attorney whether they would be in favor of the liquor store staying in business if it followed “appropriate business practices,” the salon owner said yes, while the vet said no.

The District 6 (now District 1) police officer testified about being called to the 7-11 store, next to Nate’s, by the store’s manager on a night in September 2012, because a very intoxicated man came into the store. The man, who was taken to detox, said he’d bought beer at Nate’s.

I talked to Raul, the manager of Nate’s, who told me about two police officers who were waiting outside the store to breathalize a customer who had just bought alcohol. The customer was found to be intoxicated, and the store and clerk were ticketed. Raul explained that it’s often hard to know if a customer is intoxicated or not.

What I can’t help wondering is whether the police, under pressure from the trendy businesses in this rapidly gentrifying neighborhood, are targeting this particular liquor store in order to remove them from the area–with the businesses hoping that once Nate’s is gone, those of its customers who are homeless will also disappear.

But this whole situation just underscores the painful reality that gentrification, or the “upscaling” of neighborhoods, making them unaffordable to the people who once lived there–such as is happening in this area–is a major cause of homelessness. And, as Tim, who’s owned the neighboring Aztlan Theatre since 1970, told me, “when you force businesses like Nate’s to close, you just create more homeless people.”

Not that I’m a fan of alcohol, but somehow it doesn’t seem fair that housed people can buy all the booze they want, and take it home and get as drunk as they want, without anyone making a fuss about it. But unhoused people have nowhere to drink in private–should they want to drink–or to stash their purchases–or to pee in private, without someone taking their picture–for that matter. Where are the public bathrooms for unhoused people to use? And where is the affordable housing which would keep people from having to hang out in alleys and beg to use other peoples’ bathrooms?

Raul said the other businesses criticize him for selling “cheap” liquor–i.e. liquor that poor people can afford–as if that’s a crime! He also admitted that the other businesses have forced him to stop selling to “trouble makers”–and that might mean “homeless people”–talk about profiling! But they’re still not satisfied and want his business gone–probably to make way for another trendy upscale shop.

I’ll post new developments as they happen. 



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