SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Pretending to be a convenience store so it can sell alcohol, that’s how Sioux Falls City Council member Janet Brekke describes Walia Convenience Store in the Whittier Neighborhood. Tuesday night, in a 6-2 vote, Walia’s liquor license was not renewed.
Brekke, who has experience as a small business owner, says she’s seen several violations inside Walia from items not being labeled properly to ingredients not being listed.
“Made me feel like this wasn’t really a convenience store. It was pretending to be a convenience store with a real off-sale alcohol license,” Brekke said.
“I’m convinced that there’s a lot of evidence that would show that the management is not suitable for holding an off-sale license and that the location is no longer suitable,” Brekke said.
Attorney Tyler Coverdale, who is representing Walia, says the owners do everything they can to police their own property.
“We are not operating on-sale. My clients reject that utterly. We are not opening beverages for people. We are not intentionally letting these people drink on our premises. It’s just that they have nowhere else to go and our efforts at getting them to leave often prove fruitless,” Coverdale said.
Walia’s owners say only 20-percent of their business is alcohol and that they’ve removed cans featuring high-potency products. Councilor Theresa Stehly says while that’s encouraging, she says a growing stock of liquor is just taking its place.
“What is troubling to me is the photos that show that you’ve removed the single serve cans and replaced them with a wider stock of liquor. That’s telling me that there’s maybe more energy happening with that part of your business than perhaps the 20-percent,” Stehly said.
Coverdale says removal of the liquor license will just shift the problem elsewhere. He says this issue could stem from a change from law enforcement in the area.
“Problems have significantly worsened in recent years in part, we believe, due to a perhaps alteration in the police presence in the neighborhood,” Coverdale said.
Over the past few weeks, Walia spokesperson Michael Alemu told officials he was looking into hiring security and holding a town hall in the neighborhood. Councilor Rick Kiley pointed out that neither has happened.
Kiley: So despite a four-week deferral period. A month, you haven’t been able to put that together?
Alemu: The town hall? No. Kiley: Thank you. That’s all the questions I have.
After all the debate, Walia’s license wasn’t renewed following a 6-2 vote.
Executive Director Madeline Shields of the Bishop Dudley Hospitality House says Walia owners stopped by twice recently and dropped off applications for guests interested in working for Walia as security. Shields says she’s not working with Walia to hire someone but adds that Bishop Dudley doesn’t dismiss any applications.