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Queens Chronicle

Liquor store near rehab center halted

SLA rules spirits shop can’t move operation next to Reality House

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Posted: Thursday, January 17, 2019 10:30 am

In retrospect, you might say opening a liquor store next door to an alcohol and drug rehab center was a bad idea from the beginning.

Last week, the State Liquor Authority voted to make that official.

Vernon Wine & Liquor Inc. won’t be getting a license to open a store on Astoria Boulevard next to a 30-bed rehab facility aimed at veterans.

The planned store at 8-23 Astoria Blvd. raised a community outcry last month when word of the SLA application became public.

The location, a former storefront church, is directly next to Reality House, a non-profit that specializes in treating veterans in a residential facility.

Councilmember Costa Constantinides (D-Astoria), Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan (D-Long Island City) and Reality House all fired off letters to the SLA urging the application be rejected at a hearing scheduled for last Wednesday in Manhattan.

To drive home the point that the store would be, as one opponent said, “a slap in the face” to veterans, Astoria groups staged a rally in front of the shuttered site on the morning of the hearing.

At the hearing, the lawyer for Vernon Wine & Liquor argued that the owner was simply asking to move to a new spot a block away from his old store. “It’s not going to hurt the area,” he said.

Wang lost this previous store a short distance away when the building was demolished to make way for a high-rise, his lawyer said.

But the members of the board were unconvinced.

“Substance-abusing veterans is a really, really big social issue,” said SLA Chariman Vincent Bradley, adding that it is “very rare” for the agency to get so much official opposition to a routine application.

The vote to deny the application was unanimous.

“Find another location that’s not right next to a drug and alcohol treatment [center] for veterans,” SLA member Lily Fan instructed the owner.

The rejection was a clear victory for community groups, who also noted that the proposal should not have happened in the first place.

“I am still shocked someone displayed such toxic hubris to even attempt to open a liquor store here,” said Constantinides in a prepared statement.

The councilman gave credit to neighborhood organizers for stirring up support quickly enough to stop the store.

“I want to thank Claudia Coger of the Astoria Houses and Bishop Mitchell Taylor of Urban Upbound for embodying what it means to be a community advocate,” he said.

A call to Wang’s lawyer asking for comment last week was not returned.

The owner had been searching for a new spot for a year and worried that, if he had to go back to looking, his existing license might expire, his lawyer said.

The SLA said it is willing to work out an extension with Wang until he found a more suitable location.

Welcome to the discussion.