SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Later this month, the Walia Convenience Store near downtown Sioux Falls will once again be defending its right to sell alcohol.

The store, which is on the same block as the Bishop Dudley Hospitality House, owns an off-sale liquor license and several neighbors are saying the sale of high potency, cheap alcohol is leading to an increase in crime in the area.

Walia Convenience Store sits at the corner of 10th and Indiana. Many who work and shop downtown often drive right past it.

“Primarily we sell Ethiopian goods and we also sell alcohol but our major product is injera. If you ever had Ethiopian food, injera is the bread that goes underneath most of the food and it’s a hit with the Ethiopian community,” Michael Alemu said.

Michael Alemu is the son-in-law of the owner and the spokesperson for the business. He says it’s a store started by an Ethiopian immigrant that’s being unfairly targeted.

“We’ve heard their concerns and it is a serious concern. It is a concern to the community. It’s a concern to us. We’ve been affected by the problem as well,” Alemu said.

The map below shows the area of incident concerns provided by Sioux Falls Police.

That problem is alcohol abuse and inappropriate behaviors that can accompany drunkenness.

We first told you on KELOLAND News this week that a local law enforcement officer told the City Council that Walia “is a large contributor, if not the number one seller of alcohol to the transient population in the area.”

“We’ve had to spend some money and put up a gate to help keep some of the problem away from us, from our customers,” Swenson said.

Steve Swenson owns Handy Man across the street from Walia. A six-foot, $12,000 fence was installed a month ago to keep people from panhandling in his parking lot. And that’s not all he says they’re doing.

Fence at Handy Man

“One thing over the last 25 years we haven’t had to deal with like we do now is defecation on our building, in our alley way. They urinate and defecate, seriously. Our poor employees have to deal with that,” Swenson said.

Swenson, whose business relocated to 18th Street and Cliff Avenue while it remodels following September tornado damage, says the problem gets worse every day and he isn’t alone.

“We’ve got a problem with a lot of littering, drunks. Every morning you make an inspection as to what your front door looks like,” Dick Year said.

Year with Midstates, a nearby business, says it’s a neighborhood problem but Walia is a big part of the issue. Year says that’s because they sell what he calls high potency malt liquor to vulnerable people. He’s talking about drinks with 8-14 percent alcohol by volume (APV).

KELOLAND News called several businesses that sell single cans or bottles of malt liquor such as Steel Reserve (8.1% APV) and Joose (14% APV). Those sell at less than $3 and in cans of around 20 ounces to 40 ounces. An eight-ounce can of Bud Light (4.2% APV) sells for less than $3.

“We can no longer allow unresponsible businesspeople to be in the area. I have no problem with the bars that are here because they do go out and police their ground on a Saturday night,” Year said.

“There’s a half a dozen beer cans fresh in the snow. They’ve tried to clean it up, but they do absolutely nothing to monitor it. Once they buy it, they don’t care that they drink it on their property or if they walk away with it,” Year said.

Alemu disputes that notion and says they’re taking action.

“These are vastly consumed by the people in this area and we’re getting rid of them,” Alemu said.

Alcohol such as malt liquor has a higher percentage of alcohol per volume compared to beer. Malt liquors are often available in larger individual cans or bottles such as 20 ounces.

He says the store is almost done with the stock of these high alcohol beverages. Earlier in the day however, we watched as cases of other high potency products were loaded into the shop. While he says alcohol sales only make up 20-percent of the business, Alemu doesn’t want the store’s license to disappear.

“Taking away this license will severely cut into her business and also devaluate the value of the property that she’s worked so hard to keep. So that’s what at stake for us,” Alemu said.

Sioux Falls City Councilor Theresa Stehly is the one who pulled Walia’s license renewal out of a group for further review. She spent the summer talking with people in this neighborhood.

“There are problems with urination, defecation, fornication, loitering, harassment of customers and littering. It’s not a good situation. No one would want to do business or live in that kind of environment,” Stehly said.

She says the common denominator in her discussions with stakeholders is the high potency alcohol. She’s shining a spotlight on the issue to get people talking.

“If we don’t talk to each other, then we make bad decisions,” Stehly said.

“We want to service those people who are vulnerable but we want to make sure our businesses are vibrant as well,” Stehly said.

Alemu says Walia is already taking steps to make things better.

“We’re trying to get security. We’re trying to work with the city. We’re trying to work with the cops,” Alemu said.

“Walia store is willing to help clean up this corner and let’s help these individuals. Let’s not just take away one person’s license to sell,” Alemu said.

For Swenson and Handy Man, he just wants to see the neighborhood return to what it once was.

“25 years. It’s been a great location for us,” Swenson said.

“The people that live here, their kids get to walk to the swimming pool. What a great place to be? It’s just too bad some of this stuff has to happen. We have to deal with it,” Swenson said.

Alemu says Walia would like to be part of a town hall meeting on the issue. The store’s license will come before the City Council again on December 17.