Longform

Shape Up Or Ship Out

Page 6 of 9

For each of its legal violations, Bonanza has had to pay a fine or undergo a temporary suspension of its liquor license; in the past, the neighbors agreed not to create a stink if Lee would try to resolve the problems. At an April meeting with the Unsinkables, she offered to make some concessions, such as hiring a security guard and not selling malt liquor, single cans of beer, forty-ounce bottles of beer or fortified wine. But since Lee wouldn't agree to close at 10 p.m., the neighbors voted unanimously to pressure the city to revoke Lee's liquor license.

Even so, Lee stopped selling the low-end alcohol, and she posted a sign on the counter informing customers of the change; profits have dropped by 30 percent as a result, Yoon says. Lee was willing to suffer that loss in order to appease the neighbors, he explains, but she wasn't willing to close at 10 p.m. "About 20 percent of our business comes between 10 p.m. and midnight," Yoon says. "If we change our hours, we might as well close."

That's exactly what the neighbors would like.

"If Bonanza catered to people in the neighborhood, we'd support them," Anderson says. "Most people I've talked to in the neighborhood don't drink forties or airline shooters."

A week after the Unsinkables voted in favor of revocation, Capitol Hill United Neighborhoods (CHUN), the organization representing all of Capitol Hill -- whose boundaries span the central core of Denver, from First to 22nd Avenues and Broadway to Colorado Boulevard -- voted unanimously to support the revocation of Bonanza's license. Together, CHUN and the Unsinkables solicited the support of councilman Thomas and Erin Lange, an advocate on the Capitol Hill Community Justice Council, which was established by the Denver District Attorney's office three years ago to address neighborhood issues.

All of them attended an April 25 "show cause" hearing in which penalties for the January violation were to be discussed. As the hearing started, Bonanza's attorney, Steve Lee (no relation to Kyung Lee), and assistant city attorney Kory Nelson introduced a stipulation that both parties had agreed to. The deal proposed that, for the January infraction, Bonanza be granted a one-year reprieve so long as it didn't commit any further violations during that time, hired a security guard, didn't sell certain kinds of alcohol, provided training for employees, installed video cameras and didn't open before 9 a.m. (The store normally opens at 8 a.m.) If Bonanza failed to honor any of those conditions in the next year, Lee would agree to close her store for sixty days.

The stipulation blindsided the neighbors, who'd made it clear that those terms were unacceptable. Usually, the public isn't allowed to provide input at show-cause hearings (unlike hearings for new liquor-license applicants or renewal hearings for existing license holders), but the group persuaded hearing officer Terry Tomsick to allow its testimony. It's even more unorthodox for a city councilmember to speak, but Thomas did so anyway.

"I am very pro-business. I'm in no mood to run some businessperson out of business," Thomas testified. "But I'm very pro-neighborhood as well. The neighbors did not agree to these stipulations. These stipulations were in place last time, but they were not adhered to then, which is why we're here again."

Being open from 9 a.m. until midnight "is not appropriate. A lot of the street trouble involves liquor stores, and a lot of it starts after 10 p.m.," he continued. "Ten a.m. to 10 p.m., six days a week, is reasonable, and if that's not stipulated, the only thing is revocation."

Although Tomsick had allowed the public testimony, she later determined that it was improper. In her recommendation to excise-and-licenses director Helen Gonzales, she let the stipulation between Lee and the city attorney stand, but instead of agreeing to suspend Bonanza's license for sixty days in the event of future violations, Tomsick recommended revoking the store's license if Lee breaks any of the terms during the next year.

The city attorney's office and Bonanza each filed objections to this recommendation, which Gonzales rejected. A new hearing is scheduled for June 20.

On May 25, Bonanza was cited yet again for selling alcohol to an intoxicated person, and the Unsinkables are hoping this latest infraction will finally convince the city to shut the door on the store. If its liquor license is eventually revoked, it could be the Unsinkables' biggest victory yet.

8:45 p.m.,
13th Avenue and Pearl Street

After they fail to bust Charles, the group heads down 13th Avenue. When they reach Bonanza Liquors, they find Mike slumped against the wall in an unnatural-looking position. His eyes are open and he appears to be conscious, but he can't seem to move.

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Julie Jargon
Contact: Julie Jargon