Wal-Mart’s proposal to add a liquor license to its superstore in Macomb, Illinois got smashed this week by local residents. A full liquor license is a common feature of ‘expanded’ Wal-Mart supercenters. For example, when Wal-Mart announced the expansion of two discount stores into supercenters in the spring of 2007 in the Oak Park Heights area of Minnesota, the company boasted, “In each expanded store, customers will also find a full liquor section.” According to the Macomb Journal, three city residents and one alderman testified yesterday that Wal-Mart should not be given a package liquor license for its supercenter. One resident told the Aldermen that liquor has been treated differently than other retail items because of its potential danger to public safety and to public health. “I would request that the application by a multinational company that offers ‘Always the Low Price’ be given intense scrutiny in light of the common good of the Macomb community,” the resident said. Another resident told the board, “Greater availability and higher consumption increases community problems,” she said. “Wal-Mart has been a good neighbor… (but) I don’t think liquor licenses should be a reward (for good behavior) or be granted to every merchant who requests one.” The liquor license was also opposed by the medical chief of staff at Western Illinois University, who testified that studies show that a reduction in the density of alcohol availability results in significant decreases in high-risk drinking. Dr. Rick Iverson noted that Macomb’s liquor stores have doubled in the past seven years. “Each additional outlet dilutes the number of law enforcement officers available to address drinking problems.” Macomb Alderman Dick Vick said several residents in his ward contacted him to oppose Wal-Mart’s liquor license, but no one called to support it. “Wal-Mart is the most crowded store in town,” Vick said. “There are many Western students there. I worry about impulse buying.” Wal-Mart’s store manager said none of her employees selling liquor would be under 18, and that the liquor section would be “chained shut” on Sundays, with the liquor shelves behind a gate. Wal-Mart’s lawyer said that 100 Wal-Mart store in Illlinois have liquor licenses, and noen of them have been suspended. Macomb Mayor Mick Wisslead weighed in to support Wal-Mart. “Five people out of 20,000 have voiced objections to me,” the Mayor said. “It’s up to the city council. If they vote to create a liquor license for Wal-Mart, I will issue it.” The Mayor says Wal-Mart opponents have distorted his comments about the liquor license bringing in more sales taxes. “They’re saying I implied income would increase because Macomb residents would buy more liquor. What I said was that our sales tax might increase because of out of town people who might come and buy at Wal-Mart.” The Mayor is worried that students will buy liquor at Wal-Mart and then take it onto campus house parties. “We need to address this issue, and we need help from the university,” the Mayor said.
The university asked city officials to help them solve the issue of student drinking, and noted that the University, by itself, cannot solve the problem of drinking on campus. “We need your help,” Dr. Iverson of Western Illinois University pleaded. Readers are urged to email Macomb Mayor Mick Wisslead at http://www.cityofmacomb.com/contactus.html with the following message: “Dear Mayor Wisslead, I am concerned to learn of your support for another liquor license in the city — this one for the Wal-Mart supercenter. Not only will this damage many of the smaller, locally-owned liquor stores — but it will make it easier for students at WIU to get liquor and bring it back on campus, and it would not surprise me to hear that some of your Macomb High School Bombers have gotten bombed in the Wal-Mart parking lot. This proposal will only increase the costs of dealing with at-risk drinking. Your city has seen an alarming increase in the number of liquor licenses in town, and officials from WIU have pleaded with you for help in coping with student drinking. In response, you propose adding more liquor licenses. Before you start counting your sales taxes, consider that existing liquor stores may go under, and Wal-Mart sales will be transferred from those smaller outlets. You are just enabling Wal-Mart to dominate another retail product — in this case one that is already very prevalent in Macomb. Wal-Mart is not entitled to a liquor license, and Macomb would be better off economically and, from a public health perspective, by not wratcheting up the number of large stores pushing liquor on your student population.”