Don’t blame the booze, blame the boozers

YOU CAN’T buy Colt 45 at the city’s newest beer store.

Under an unusual agreement aimed at keeping lowlifes off its high-priced turf, a Northern Liberties neighborhood group backed off its opposition to the Foodery takeout beer shop after the store’s owner promised not to stock Colt and other cheap malt liquors.

The agreement, which was approved by the city Zoning Commission, specifically bans the sale of popular but often-condemned 40-ounce bottles.

The Foodery, whose original location in Center City continues to sell 40s, finally opened its long-awaited second location earlier this month at 2nd and Poplar streets after months of zoning and licensing delays.

“The main reason for the agreement was the neighborhood wanted to keep the store on a higher end,” said Tony Rim, an area restaurateur who represented the Foodery’s owner during negotiations with the Northern Liberties Neighbors Association. “The neighborhood group thought carrying 40-ouncers would attract panhandlers and riffraff.”

A spokesman for the NLNA confirmed the agreement but declined to talk publicly about its contents.

The agreement is the latest maneuver in a citywide war over takeout beer sales, especially malt liquor.

In recent years, church and community groups have picketed so-called stop-and-go’s, charging that their sale of cheap beer, cigarettes and drug paraphernalia is a magnet for derelicts. Last year, stop-and-go opponents got a boost when the state Legislature enacted a measure that gave City Council veto power over takeout sales at bars, restaurants and delis.

According to a report last week by Daily News reporter Mark McDonald, Council rejected 50 of the 830 permits it reviewed.

The new law, however, was struck down earlier this month by Common Pleas judges who ruled it improperly gave council members authority to act as prosecutor, jury and judge.

Though state liquor licenses frequently contain restrictions over operating hours and other provisions, licensing attorneys told me they’d never encountered an agreement that prohibits the sale of a specific brand of beer.

In addition to Colt 45, the deal bans the sale of Crazy Horse, Old English 800, St. Ides and Silver Thunder, as well as other malt liquors in 40-ounce bottles, which it described as “nuisance beers,” that are “not consistent with an upscale image.”

Additionally, the agreement prohibits the sale of common household supplies like cat litter and breakfast cereal.

“The neighborhood association liked the concept of just selling high-end beer,” Rim said. “There was a lot of criteria to meet. They didn’t want it to be anything like a stop-and-go.”

Indeed, the new store is anything but low-end. There are no bulletproof cashier cages, no crack pipe tubes, no Philly Blunts.

Instead, like its other location at 10th and Pine streets, the Foodery carries more than 600 brands of beer, specializing in fancy microbrews and gourmet imports that cost five times the price of a standard 40. It also sells sandwiches and, soon, gelato.

The no-40s deal may be just the ticket for a trendy neighborhood grappling with vagrants and street crime. But I think it’s yet another reactionary prohibition that wrongly blames the beer, not the bad actors. If loitering, vandalism, drugs or underage drinking are the problem, enforce those laws.

But malt liquor?

It is hardly the only cheap buzz; fortified wine sold in state liquor stores packs a bigger punch at a lower cost (per alcohol content).

It is not the only cheap beer. A 32-ounce bottle of Yuengling costs about the same per ounce as a 40 of St. Ides. (All malt liquor isn’t cheap, by the way. The Dogfish Head craft brewery makes Liquor de Malt, which costs $6.99 for a 40.)

And it’s not the only strong beer. Some of those microbrews and imports actually contain two to three times the alcohol of malt liquor.

Colt 45 is a target only because of its image as a ghetto beer, as liquid crack swilled from a paper bag.

Yes, malt liquor’s marketing is aimed at young people. Yes, the 40 is a bad-ass symbol of urban hip-hop culture. But don’t kid yourself. Alcoholism, vagrancy, drug sales, beer-fueled violence… they’re still there whether malt liquor is for sale or not.

If not on your block, then right around the corner.

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