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Longs Drugs Agrees To Downtown Store Without Alcohol

Friday July 02, 2004

Longs Drugs is apparently coming to downtown Berkeley and checking its beer and wine selection at the door. 

The chain drug store retailer had threatened to pull out of a deal, nearly two years in the making, to bring an outlet to 2300 Shattuck Ave. at the corner of Bancroft Way, when the Zoning Adjustment Board (ZAB) granted it a use permit that forbade the sale of alcohol. 

Had the deal fallen through, Longs would have been the fourth chain retailer this year to reject downtown Berkeley, which is ailing from an abundance of vacant storefronts. Already Gateway Computers, Eddie Bauer, and See’s Candies have closed shop.  

Last month, the City Council voted 5-4 to set a public hearing for later this month to see if it could salvage a deal for Longs. A five member council majority wanted to exact concessions from Longs in return for allowing it to sell alcoholic beverages just 700 feet away from Berkeley High school. 

However, in a letter sent to the city last week, Longs informed city officials that it was dropping its appeal of the ZAB ruling for the 15,500 square foot retail space at 2300 Shattuck, which has sat empty since 2001. 

Longs officials didn’t respond to telephone calls for this story. Jim Novosel, the project’s architect, said he received an e-mail from Longs executive David Greensfelder saying, “We plan to pursue our store without a liquor license as it is presently entitled (per ZAB).” Longs gave no explanation for its change of heart, Novosel said.  

Previously Longs had demanded an alcohol permit to preserve a standard product line. A company representative also said the expected sales tax revenue generated for the city would be less than the $100,000 previously reported. 

The plan to carry beer and wine ran into opposition from the Berkeley Unified School District and the Berkeley Police Department. Police Chief Roy Meisner wrote to the State Department of Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) and the city’s planning department that alcohol sales at Longs would increase crime in the area that already experienced rates of police calls for drugs or alcohol 97 percent above the city average. 

Usually ABC grants alcohol licenses, but since the census tract where Longs will reside had already reached its quota, the city needed to agree to a waiver. 

School Board President John Selawsky, who engineered a board resolution opposing Longs, hailed the company’s retreat as “great news. The sale of alcohol so close to a school doesn’t make sense,” he said. “As long as there’s no alcohol I’m happy.” 

But Bonnie Hughes, a downtown resident who also opposed Longs, still wishes the retailer wasn’t coming to the city center. Although she’s happy the store won’t include alcohol, Hughes doesn’t think her neighborhood needs a chain drug store, especially with a Walgreens just three blocks away. 

“What the downtown needs are more interesting shops and Longs doesn’t fit that bill,” she said. 

Hughes, like many of her neighbors, is hoping for a produce store or public market to move downtown. 

Longs had offered to include a produce section as a concession in return for an alcohol permit. However, city officials don’t know if the company will proceed with that component of the store now that it has agreed not to sell alcoholic beverages. 

A grocery store has been one of the top requests from downtown residents, said Ted Burton of the city’s office of economic development. While a produce store is planned for the David Brower Center at Oxford and Kittredge streets, finding one for Shattuck has been difficult, he said, because supermarkets tend to demand parking and pay lower rents than downtown properties demand. 

Novosel didn’t have a timetable for when Longs would open its store. He said the building, owned by the Lakireddy family, needed considerable structural repairs and that Longs wouldn’t be able to begin its own building modifications for at least a year.›