Owners of the shopping plaza at 43rd and Chestnut streets and members of the Spruce Hill Community Association took a second shot at replacing an adult video store with a state wine and spirits shop.
The Philadelphia Zoning Board of Adjustment heard arguments in favor and against a proposed liquor store at a hearing on June 6 after denying the store’s application at an April hearing. The Zoning Board — the body within the Department of Licenses and Inspections that decides on cases of land use in the city — has not yet made a ruling.
SHCA zoning committee Chair Barry Grossbach, who spoke at the hearing in favor of the liquor store, is anticipating the Zoning Board to make a decision in a matter of days.
“Given the fact that this was a special hearing and all of the members of the [Zoning Board] were there, I would think we would hear from them fairly soon,” he said.
The proposal of the liquor store is facing opposition from the Muslim community and stirred some controversy due to the plaza’s close proximity to the Masjid al-Jamia mosque on 43rd and Walnut streets.
In 2007, the Zoning Board rejected a liquor store at a site at 43rd and Walnut streets across the street from the mosque. Members of Masjid al-Jamia fought strongly against the move, arguing the store would offend their religion.
“We knew there would be opposition from the Muslim community on religious grounds, and we were trying to avoid any repeat of a divisive battle in the neighborhood,” Grossbach said, referring to the 2007 issue.
Both sites are co-owned by Dan DeRitis.
The Muslim community also opposes the liquor store due to potential security issues it said would arise with a new liquor store in the shopping plaza.
“It’s a bad area, there’s already a lot of problems there,” said Mohammed Musa, one of the 305 signatories of the petition against the liquor store and a resident of South 44th Street near Ludlow Street. Musa goes to the plaza for a halal restaurant and butcher stop and said many would stop coming if the liquor store is approved.
In response, Grossbach said there is a proviso in the application calling for enhanced security in the area if the liquor store is approved. The proviso calls for University City district police to patrol the site throughout the day while the store is in operation.
Grossbach and DeRitis agree the liquor store would be an asset to the community, especially considering the recent closing of a liquor store at 41st and Market streets and the current inhabitant of the proposed location — Risqué Video.
“The Liquor store at 41st and Market [streets] was an eyesore in every sense of the word,” DeRitis said, noting the store was “poorly staffed and poorly served.”
Grossbach also said the previous store was very low quality, saying the new shop would be a premium liquor store.
“The proposed store would be an upgrade over the 41st and Market store,” Grossbach said, joking “it would be hard not be an upgrade over that store.”
Grossbach also said many feel the fine wine and spirits store would be an upgrade over Risqué Video for the shopping plaza.
“We’re not taking sides on pornography versus alcohol, but we do think a wine and spirit shop would serve a wider audience and constituency than a porn video store,” he said.
While Grossbach is “neither optimistic nor pessimistic” about the upcoming ruling, DeRitis said the Zoning Board’s ruling “should be in our favor.”
“The opposition is based on religious beliefs. They oppose liquor and any use of liquor, so of course they’re going to oppose the store,” DeRitis said. “This is America, the rest of the community shouldn’t have to suffer because of a few.”
Grossbach added, “We understand where they’re coming from and respect that. People have legitimate questions of security and safety that we tried to address. We’re trying to work through these things and make sure it is an asset and not a detriment to the neighborhood.”