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Liquor stores are hot spots, attracting crime to a neighborhood "the way honey attracts flies," according to Susan Cheever. She is the prize-winning writer of a memoir on alcoholism recovery and the daughter of a great American storyteller whose work explored the pleasures and perils of booze extensively.
Writing in The Fix, an addiction recovery publication, Susan Cheever examined studies from around the US and the world, concluding that there is a direct link between a liquor store in a neighborhood and the number of homicides that occur nearby, among other alarming things. She makes a case for closing liquor stores altogether. Let's consider it.
In her survey of studies, Cheever found that even small details in how stores sold their liquor impacted crime in the neighborhood. For example, if booze was sold in shot bottles and loose cans, rather than packaged, this impacted violence.
Of course there are many other causes for violent crime, and these are more difficult to control than, say, closing shops. There is poverty and there are guns and drugs, among other factors that influence quality of life in a location. But Cheever's thesis is that liquor stores are one thing that can be easily controlled through regulation.
The obstacle to regulating liquor store licensing in a very strict fashion is that it is un-American to impede business, even if it seems to bring crime. In places that are already struggling economically, the liquor store can be a big money maker. But crime is also bad for business and neighborhoods, so poor places especially are caught in a vicious cycle.
"Yet violent crime in innocent-seeming neighborhoods was one of the great themes in my father's literary work," writes Cheever. Alcohol impacts all neighborhoods and Cheever recalls her own upbringing, the family hub being a local liquor store owned by a friendly guy named Norman. Now she sees the store owner in a more sinister light.
Ideally, some balance might be struck between the economic needs and safety. But Cheever points to stalled efforts in Baltimore as an example of the obstacles public health officials will face should they decide to crack down on liquor store licensing or attempt to change zoning regulations. The liquor lobby is strong, she writes, and so is our national love of drink.
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