Denver Government

Troubled Liquor Store on Federal Boulevard Can Keep License...With Restrictions

Avondale Liquor has had a troubled existence.
Avondale Liquor has had a troubled existence. Google Maps
Avondale Liquor, a liquor store at 1365 Federal Boulevard that has had a troubled few years under new ownership, can keep its license, albeit with restrictions, Denver's top licensing official has ruled.

"While the Licensee may not be the only attractor of crime in the area, testimony has established its failure to maintain the property in a neat and orderly fashion has signaled to criminals that the premises is not carefully watched and that criminal activity at this location would go unnoticed and unreported," Molly Duplechian, executive director of the Department of Excise and Licenses, wrote in an August 24 decision granting a liquor license renewal for Avondale Liquor, while adding certain restrictions. "Testimony further established that the Licensee attracts criminal activity and violent criminal activity by not employing sufficient staff or security."

This licensing odyssey for Avondale Liquor, which opened in 1979, began in June 2021, when the store applied for a liquor license renewal. While such renewals are often just formalities, the process also gives neighbors and others a chance to to lodge complaints against an establishment, potentially blocking the renewal.

Not long after Avondale Liquor filed its application, Excise and Licenses received objections from local registered neighborhood organizations as well as Councilmember Jamie Torres, who represents the area, and members of the Denver Police Department. Owing to thoaw complaints — most of which involved the business over the last few years, since it's been under new ownership — Excise and Licenses held a virtual renewal hearing that took place over five days in October, November and December.

During the hearing, some of those who'd filed complaints testified about what they'd seen in and around Avondale Liquor.

Carlos Maestas, who lived near the liquor store, "reported daily observations of individuals drinking alcohol and doing drugs behind the licensed premises," according to Duplechian's writeup. Many of these people would be drinking out of paper bags "similar to the bags used by" Avondale Liquor, the report notes. "He mentioned that individuals would gather near the licensed premises around 9 a.m. and would stay in that area until about 11 p.m. He oftentimes would see people passed out behind the licensed premises as well."

Another witness, Jacob Herrera, a Denver police lieutenant, testified about the high rate of crime, especially aggravated assaults, in and around Avondale Liquor. Herrera also spoke about observing "broken glass in the parking lot, litter, and a lot of people loitering on the property," the report notes.

Herrera said he'd given recommendations on how to improve the store's environment to the new owner of Avondale Liquor, Zaid Ghebremeskeris, who'd purchased the shop in February 2020, but that she didn't take him up on any of those ideas.

And Lindsey Horvat, a crime analyst for the Denver Police Department, testified that Avondale Liquor was an "attractor" for criminal activity, as were the nearby Decatur-Federal Station RTD bus and ligh-trail stops and the Paco Sánchez Park.

Avondale Liquor "had nearly two times the amount of violent offenses as the convenience store nearby, which was the second highest hotspot" in the area, she added.

On the flip side, Michael DeMatte, who used to operate the liquor store in the building that he still owns, testified that the park and nearby public transit stops contributed to crime in the area, not Avondale Liquor.

However, the decision document points out, "during Mr. DeMatte’s testimony, a person off camera was coaching him on how to respond to the questions from the attorneys thus causing credibility and reliability issues related to his testimony."

Carlos Bonilla, the manager of Super Tire Incorporated next door, said that the current environment is worse than when "the old man" ran the liquor store.

Ghebremeskeris testified, too, saying that she and her father are the only people working at Avondale Liquor, with an occasional shift covered by her cousin. She acknowledged that Avondale Liquor twice failed compliance checks when her father sold booze to a person under the age of 21, but suggested that he might have done so because he was going through a divorce at the time.

She said that she cleans the parking lot outside the  store daily, but that litter accumulates there because the bus stops don't have trash cans next to them. While Ghebremeskeris denied ever seeing her customers consume alcohol in the parking lot, she did acknowledge seeing them consume alcohol at the nearby bus stops. Ghebremeskeris also said that she has dealt with shoplifting at the store and been assaulted while working. She added that she'd been verbally harassed by people in the parking lot, and once was told to "go back to her country" by an angry customer to whom she declined to sell alcohol.

She can't afford to hire security or additional staff, Ghebremeskeris testified.

Martin McKinney, an attorney who served as the hearing officer, recommended that Avondale's  liquor license be renewed, but with restrictions. Duplechian agreed to that recommendation, and put her own nine restrictions on the renewal.

The most significant relate to staffing: Avondale Liquor must employ a minimum of two staff members, one of whom can be a security guard, from 3 p.m. to the close of business every day. The store also must employ a licensed security guard or an off-duty Denver cop for security services on the weekends from 6 p.m. to the close of business.

The store must train employees on the safe service and sale of alcohol, and they will need to require a valid photo ID for all liquor purchases and verify each ID by using a point-of-sale system or other ID scanner. 

Employees will need to be able to view all areas of the store and parking lot either with a direct line of sight or security cameras;  Avondale Liquor must prohibit loitering and not allow people to drink on the premises.

Finally, the liquor store will need to clean the store and parking lots twice daily, "removing all litter, emptying trash cans, sweeping debris, and removing broken glass," in addition to removing or covering graffiti within 72 hours.

These restrictions "could result in improved conditions," says Councilmember Torres, who had opposed the renewal of the license. "We all want safer neighborhoods and successful small businesses, so I appreciate the opportunity to see if these measures can be complied with and if they help improve some of the intense issues we see at 14th and Federal Boulevard."

Here the full decision:
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Conor McCormick-Cavanagh is a staff writer at Westword, where he covers a range of beats, including local politics, immigration and homelessness. He previously worked as a journalist in Tunisia and loves to talk New York sports.