Business Owner Wants To Open Liquor Store Next To AA Meeting Center

By Keri Blakinger 04/20/17

The liquor store owner's rep said the sobriety center should move if they don't like being next door.

Female small business owner standing in front of store that sells alcohol.

It’s about 13 steps too close for comfort. 

A Tampa business owner is trying to open a liquor store directly next to an AA meeting center, the Sobrenity Group, in Hillsborough County. Predictably, the pitch has sparked some backlash from the community.

It’s also drawn some interest from the local zoning board, as the proposed location at Winn Dixie Plaza is 450 feet from an elementary school, 100 feet from a church and daycare, and 30 feet from residential homes, according to Fox affiliate WTVT

"We feel it's just too close," Pastor Norm Coffman told Bay News 9. "We want the strip mall to be filled up. We want businesses to be in this community. We just feel this is an inappropriate location."

The Oak Grove United Methodist Church leader made his case in front of the local zoning board Monday, but a representative for the would-be liquor store pushed back. 

Dixie Liberty (yes, really) said the sobriety center isn’t considered a “community use” facility, so proximity to the AA meeting place shouldn’t be a factor in zoning officials’ decision on whether to grant the new business a Special Use Permit.

She also argued that the walking distance from the liquor store to the daycare center is farther than it seems, as an eight-foot concrete wall adds 500 feet walking distance. 

"There is liquor everywhere, it doesn't matter that it's next door," said added. "Anybody can move in next door, there could be a restaurant with full liquor. What are they supposed to do, move?"

Instead, Liberty suggested that the sobriety center should move, defending the liquor store owner's bid for the controversial location. "She is sorry that they are there, but this is her business, this is her life," Liberty said. "If they don't like it, I am quite sure they can move."

AA supporters still argued the proposal is bad for recovering drinkers’ sobriety. “Temptation is closer,” Coffman said.

"You can find it being so tempting," said John Lewin. "Someone can say 'Wait a minute, I really need a drink bad' and then you're going to roll right next door. That's not a good thing for those of us in recovery."

Zoning officials will make a decision in the next three weeks.

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Keri Blakinger is a former drug user and current reporter living in Texas. She covers breaking news for the Houston Chronicle and previously worked for the New York Daily News and the Ithaca Times. She has written about drugs and criminal justice for the Washington Post, Salon, Quartz and more. She loves dogs and is not impressed by rodeo food. Find Keri on LinkedIn and Twitter.