Fairbanks Mayor Jim Matherly broke a tie Friday which held the fate of Thrifty Liquors’ license in the balance. The council voted to protest the liquor store’s license on Feb. 10, citing concerns about public safety. A special meeting was called Friday to reconsider the vote.
There were two votes Friday night: whether to reconsider the previous vote, and when that passed, whether or not to protest the liquor license.
The motion to reconsider was submitted by Councilman Aaron Gibson, who said he felt the council may have “failed” during the first vote, as they didn’t have a “clear message for why we did it or which direction we were gonna go with it.”
The vote to reconsider was split: Councilman Jerry Cleworth and Councilwoman Valerie Therrien both voted against reconsideration. Councilmen Gibson and David Pruhs and Councilwoman June Rogers voted in favor. Councilwoman Shoshana Kun was absent at this point in the meeting, but arrived before the second vote.
Owner Rudy Gavora was offered an opportunity to speak but he instead allowed Thrifty Liquor’s manager, Susan Hamner, to take the floor.
Hamner asserted that the store’s employees went “above and beyond” what the state requires of liquor stores, by checking for “straw buys” — customers buying for others who may not be allowed to purchase liquor — and patrolling the store and the parking lot. Moreover, she said, the store checks IDs on every purchase, even for those just buying gum.
Councilman David Pruhs said he’d personally gone into the store and bought a Hostess cupcake and looked at the layout. He joked that when he bought the sweets, the ID check made him “feel bad” about his purchase.
He also said that he estimated about 40% of the store’s wares to be groceries. Previous testimony claimed that there were customers waiting in line at the store’s opening each day to buy liquor. Pruhs felt that it was likely more people bought groceries at that time.
According to Hamner, Thrifty Liquors sold more in groceries in the prior 30 days than they did in alcohol. She did not specify the time these items were sold, but did say that many of the store’s early-morning customers were night-shift workers.
“If there are alcohol sales (in the morning), it’s because it’s their time off,” Hamner said, “I mean, they can’t exactly drink during the night when they have to work.”
Hamner also said that many of the 95 calls to police and 170 calls to Emergency Services Patrol came from store employees. Pruhs called this “performing a public service.”
Rogers spoke in favor of waiving protest, stating that the safety issues of the area were a community problem, and “a much larger problem than any particular business entity.” She went on to say, “We have a community responsibility and we need to be supportive of and uplifting and helpful to those businesses that are trying to work in the very, very difficult circumstances of this much larger community problem.”
When it came time to vote, the council was split: Pruhs, Gibsons and Rogers voted to waive protest and Therrien, Cleworth and Kun voted to protest. Matherly broke the tie in favor of waiving protest.
Contact staff writer Cheryl Upshaw at 459-7572 or find her on Twitter @FDNMcity.