Baltimore City aiming to zone some liquor stores out of existence

At the Eutaw Market on the city's west side, it is the same old faces buying the same old elixir.

The corner liquor store has been a staple in Baltimore for more than a generation, a market Douglas Jung and his parents bought into a decade ago.

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"This store is actually…it's a lot.  It's my parents', they've invested their whole life savings into this business. This is supposed to be their retirement as well."

And eventually, it is supposed to be the income for his young family, but Jung is on what he and other liquor store owners call the hit list. It's a list of just more than 100 corner liquor stores to be zoned out of existence as Baltimore flips the script and rewrites zoning codes for the first time in more than 40 years.

"It is an important part to get right," said Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

The mayor has been helping guide this process for five years now. Changing the way Baltimore is used and what is allowed is a massive undertaking, and liquor store density is only one issue, but it is one the mayor believes absolutely has to change.

"Look, we have some communities where you can have 10 in two blocks. It is ridiculous, and we have to do something about it. Not doing something about it is not an option," the mayor said.

A recent study by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health published in the Journal of Urban Health suggests a viable link between some of Baltimore's violent crime and the density of its liquor stores.

Specifically, the off-premise liquor outlet or the corner liquor store.

"For every one additional liquor store in a neighborhood, there is a 4.8 percent estimated increase in violent crime counts," said co-author of the study Dr. Rachel Johnson-Thornton.

Thornton says in a neighborhood where all things are equal, the relationship between liquor stores and violent crime is a statistically strong one.

This kind of study has been done in other cities before, so the findings were not exactly shocking. The association between the two is an important connection to make in Baltimore, says co-author of the study Dr. Jacky Jennings.

"It is alarming, yeah and certainly this is a city that has been plagued with high violent crime. While this is not the sole, not the only factor associated with violent crime, there are certainly other contributing factors...this is one."

The study and its findings were released in late February and just in time to influence Baltimore's zoning code rewrite.

Baltimore's now former health commissioner believes it is undeniable local evidence that reducing the number and breaking up the density of corner stores in neighborhoods will increase the health and well-being of them.

"Once you start reducing that density, I think it creates opportunities to them, bring in health-promoting businesses that can really help communities thrive," said Dr. Oxiris Barbot.

And so the city generated a list of about 100 stores, businesses that are the relics of an even older zoning code and were grandfathered in last time around.

These corner liquor outlets have had a 40-year run and health experts say, time's up.

"We've seen the decline in the community since 1971, and it is time to really make some very positive, dramatic changes," Dr. Barbot said.

But, that change is coming at the expense of small businesses, more than 80 percent of the 100 targeted establishments owned and operated by Korean families like the Jungs.

"It seems like, just to get to a couple, they want to take a brush and wipe out a 100 stores. That is not fair to the other store owners,” Jung said

Is it wiping away a livelihood?  

“Certainly,” Jung responded, “without a doubt."

It's a livelihood many immigrant families saw as their slice of the American dream, but currently on corners the city of Baltimore, feels to have weathered a generation of decline.

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