TX: Downtown Dallas 7-Elevens, convenience stores soaking up ire over strong-booze
The Dallas Morning News
By Robert Wilonsky
September 1, 2015
[Editor’s note: This item has been updated since it was initially posted.]
One month ago we discovered 7-Eleven’s plans to build a convenience store-gas station near the Dallas Farmers Market and The Bridge, and ever since downtown real-estate owners, activists and council members have taken to Twitter to demand the for-now-Arts District-based company do a much better job keeping panhandlers away from customers. If nothing else, Dallas Police Chief David Brown says he’s aware of the problem and “on it.” So … there’s that.
But now, the 7-Eleven-watchers — chief among them Tanya Ragan, who has spent years trying to clean up the farmers market section of downtown — have turned their attention to something they thought was cleared up years ago: the sale of cheap high-alcohol-content booze in downtown convenience stores.
See, five years ago Downtown Dallas Inc. — the nonprofit whose president and CEO, John Crawford, calls it a “conduit between the private and public sectors” — cut a deal with downtown convenience stores intended to “prohibit the sale of ‘high alcohol content beer and wine’ to the homeless.” And for the most part, Crawford says, it has been successful — “one of the better programs we’ve implemented.”
Initially, he says, 7-Eleven “didn’t understand what we were trying to do,” but it too eventually signed on to the agreement, which outlaws the sale of single drinks with an alcohol content of 6 percent or higher. (Translated for the local craft-beer fetishists: Stores can sell, say, four-packs of 9.1-percent alcohol-by-volume Lakewood Temptress, which sells for around $10, but they can’t offer it by the bottle.) The agreement also prohibits the sale of flavored fortified wines — as in, Wild Irish Rose, Mad Dog 20/20, Night Train and the Nightcaps’ favorite, Thunderbird.
But, yes, every so often, during one of its regular inspections, Downtown Dallas Inc.’s safety patrollers will find convenience stores — and not just 7-Elevens — who are not complying with the agreement.
Says Martin Cramer, Downtown Dallas Inc.’s vice president of public safety, either they’re selling high-octane booze (like Bud Light’s 8-percent-alcohol Mang-O-Rita) or skirting the agreement by offering four-packs of 8.1% ABV Steel Reserve for less than $5 (single cans usually sell for around $1.89, according to The Google Machine). Cramer says Star Liquor Beer & Wine on N. Lamar was recently found selling Four Loko by the can.
“We don’t just trust these guys,” says Cramer. “We actually go out twice a month to each store to verify compliance. And when they’re not complying with the agreement, we let them know. And they always take care of it.” That’s because they have to: According to Cramer, the agreement says stores that don’t comply with the agreement can be taken to court, “and they are responsible for any legal fees and anything else involved.” In five years, he notes, there hasn’t been a single case filed against a downtown convenience store.
Most of the downtown 7-Elevens are franchises, and some haven’t signed the agreement because they’re relatively brand-new. But Cramer says the mothership’s senior director of government affairs, Keith Jones, has always been good about getting the store owners to comply with the arrangement.
“7-Eleven has a voluntary agreement with Downtown Dallas Inc. not to sell single unit of large format, high alcohol content beer in the central business district (40 oz or larger),” Jones says in a statement sent to The Dallas Morning News. “Occasionally a store changes hands (a new Franchisee buys the store, a corporate store becomes a franchised store) and the new owner sells these before they understand our agreement. When that happens, we talk to the new Franchisee and they fix it.”
Says Cramer, Jones received word about the most recent violations yesterday.
“That is probably a franchisee store, but in the past he’s been compliant,” says Cramer. “It just takes him some time to get hold of the franchisee and bring them into compliance. But that’s also a new store.” Which means, again, its owner has not signed the 2010 agreement.
Crawford knows this issue isn’t likely to disappear any time soon, especially as downtown continues to fill up with residents and retail and once-empty buildings, among them the Statler-Hilton and the old LTV Tower, come back to life. The Dallas Farmers Market area, upgraded and repopulated, will prove especially tricky as more and more homes move toward the homeless recovery center on Corsicana.
“As we grow we’re going to have to look very strategically at where any new liquor store are placed and make sure it’s consistent with good urban planning — with good neighborhoods,” says Crawford. “We’ll have to be more strategic when somebody wants to put in a new convenience store and liquor store. The farmers market area needs to be looked at pretty carefully in terms of meeting the objectives of the neighborhood and how we see downtown urbanizing. We’ve reached out to 7-Eleven, and we will talk with them. But we’re sure they are open to making the right kinds of decisions in terms of being a good community citizen.”