Last week when the Licensing Board met, the agenda was short and seemed, at first glance, to be typical.
Fortune tellers, guide dogs, and the usual smattering of liquor license applications and transfers were on the agenda.
One item stood out to me. The Hess gas station at 295 Derby St. had purchased the beer and wine liquor license for the Lafayette Market at 183A Lafayette Street. Hess is seeking city approval to transfer the license to their gas station on Derby Street. This application was tabled for further discussion and will be considered at a later date.
Gas stations selling liquor is nothing new. There are many places all over the country where you can pull in, refuel and pick up a six-pack of your favorite beer. It seems like a natural extension of our car dependent culture.
Over the last 20 years, Salem has begun to shed some of its blue collar image. One vestige of that image has not disappeared. We are a drinking town. Not everyone here drinks, but the facts speak for themselves. The old Alamo, perhaps Salem's most famous long ago "bucket of blood," may be gone, but the type of drinker they drew is still active in our community. This demographic spans all age groups, but a large percentage are of the younger variety.
There are already a myriad of issues that we deal with on a regular basis directly related to the number of people drinking alcohol in downtown establishments (and, perhaps, the amount they drink). These become flagrantly apparent in the late night or early morning hours most weekends. Ask the folks at Rouge about the late night circus acts. They have become used to having their 80-pound planters turned over and dumped on the sidewalk.
The location on Derby Street is a successful enterprise for Hess. They have a good volume of business and are one of the few gas stations that remain in or on the edge of our downtown. Their North Street location ensures that they have the area bracketed fairly well.
Salem already has more than a few package stores. The Bunghole, Argy's Liquors, Loring Liquors, Cosgrove's Liquors, and Salem Liquors are just a few. There is probably still room for another properly run liquor store in the city. A gas station is just not the place for it.
The Hess location on Derby Street borders an area of the city that draws a large percentage of our daily police calls. That would be the northern edge of the Point area. It also sits alongside the new Riverwalk where many of our chronic homeless choose to congregate. A check of law enforcement responses to that area (and the Hess address itself) would show more than a few police calls.
The last thing we need would be people driving cars late at night after imbibing at one place or another, stopping at a gas station and deciding to buy a six-pack for the road. The intention may not be to drink it as they drive, but the temptation will be there. Yes, they could stop at a liquor store, but why place temptation where an impulse buy may occur?
If Hess wants to sell beer and wine, let them, but forget the gasoline aspect. There is no place for that in Salem. You have places to drink beer, and you have places to gas your vehicle. One does not serve well with the other.