EUGENE, Ore. (AP) — Regulators have asked three Eugene convenience stores to stop selling certain malt liquors, saying the cheap drinks favored by the homeless are contributing to an increase in crime.
The malt liquors cost less than $2.50 for a 24-ounce or 32-ounce can or bottle, and they contain higher levels of alcohol than most beers. The beverages are sold in many stores, but the Oregon Liquor Control Commission has only made the request to those located near Washington-Jefferson Park.
OLCC Regional Manager Pete O'Rourke told The Register-Guard newspaper that the agency has been negotiating with store owners for the past month and would prefer that the businesses voluntarily stop selling brands that are popular with the homeless, such as Steel Reserve High Gravity and Hurricane High Gravity.
The store owners said they would consider the OLCC's request but are reluctant to pull a product that competitors could continue to sell.
"We'll do what we have to do, as long as it doesn't put us at an unfair competitive disadvantage," said Andrea Jackson, president of Jacksons convenience stores. Jacksons owns eight convenience store-gas stations in Eugene and Springfield.
Besides Jacksons, the OLCC wants Neighborhood Market and a 7-Eleven to stop selling the drinks.
People who live and work near Washington-Jefferson Park have been telling authorities to crack down on the sale of alcohol to transients and street youths. Police records show the number of crimes and arrests in the area rose sharply this summer — from 390 in the summer of 2008 to 918 in 2009.
Many of those were alcohol-related offenses. In summer 2008, for example, officers arrested 81 people for drinking in public, but that rose to 178 this summer.
"This neighborhood has turned into a transient mecca," said John Wells, the owner of Cambria Sportswear, a screen printing business near Neighborhood Market. "You are pouring cheap alcohol on men and women that have problems with addiction. And they are gravitating to it like bees on honey."
The park has been a gathering spot for transients for years, but Neighborhood Market has only been open since October 2008. It's operated by Harnek "Nick" Dhote of Salem, who said he is being blamed unfairly by residents for disturbances around the park.
If transients are causing problems, Dhote said, then perhaps the city should prevent them from being in the park, he said.
"If we stop selling beer, will that park be cleared?" he said. "I don't think so."
(Copyright 2009 The Associated Press)