The Reno City Council voted Wednesday to deny a renewal of a privilege license for alcohol sales for Wrightway Market and Lakemill Maxi Mart. The denial came after police and city code enforcement alleged the businesses were increasing crime within their areas.
The privileged license for alcohol sales renewal from Wrightway Market was denied after law enforcement claimed that a mismanagement of alcohol sales was directly causing an increase of crime in the surrounding area.
Wrightway Market’s attorney argued against the denial, stating that the store’s location near the bus stop was the cause for the nearby criminal behavior, and that they have never received a violation from the city prior to the suspension of their alcohol sales in November.
In 2021, Wrightway Market had 705 calls for service, compared with the nearby businesses of Golden Gate Gas (371) and Jacksons (391).
On Nov. 15, a suspension of packaged alcohol sales took effect, with the suspension beginning on Nov. 28.
Staff recommended a denial of Wrightway Market’s privileged license to sell package alcohol.
The number of licenses are capped at 18; however, with the two included markets, there are actually 21 licenses currently in use.
Council member Jenny Brekhus said the crime seen at Wrightway Market is due to its location.
“It is a circumstance of its location,” shesaid. “The bus station, our [Community Assistance Center] facilities — [Wrightway is] sandwiched between the two. When I went there in January, I saw a gentleman walk out and I followed behind him, he had a white bag. There was sandwich bread in it and other essentials and I said, ‘Well that guy is walking to wherever, and he doesn’t have, like me, a car with a wine box in the back to drive his wine off — he’s got to carry what he can get.
“You can’t carry a tall boy home with your bread and your ketchup. That’s problematic to me to those who do not have cars and live this more urban life.”
Deputy Chief Oliver Miller of the Reno Police Department explained that the crime in the area and the calls for service are directly correlated to Wrightway Market due to their mismanagement of alcohol sales.
Miller said that Wrightway Market had the most calls for service of any convenience store in the entire city, and the most calls regarding violent crime, including shootings, stabbings, robberies and sexual offenses.
There were also 81 reported instances of drinking from an open container in the vicinity, compared with only one instance each for Golden Gate and Jacksons.
“I know that there is a link between violent crime and alcohol,” Miller said. “Wrightway Market is the common denominator for crime in that area.”
Miller said issues causing the increase in crime was a mismanagement of alcohol sales from the business, a lack of security, “clutter” in the windows obscuring what was taking place inside the store and allowing individuals to loiter outside.
“Bad actors know where they’re welcome, and they’re welcome at the Wrightway Market,” he added.
Miller also went on to say that in a 10-day time frame since the liquor license was suspended, there have been zero calls for service — not only from the business itself, but from passersby and officers patrolling in the location.
“You are effectively signing a death warrant for Wrightway Market.”
Council member Meghan Ebert noted that the Fireside Market is the same walking distance from the bus station as Wrightway Market. She questioned whether the issue of crime would be transferred to the Fireside if Wrightway is not allowed to renew its license.
Miller said he did not believe that would be the case because Fireside Market manages their alcohol sales more responsibly.
Council member Devon Reese said that the city has very rarely, if ever, denied a privileged license for alcohol sales, but that the council has the ability to do so.
He said his decision would be based on the opinion of law enforcement reporting as opposed to “one council member’s visual surveillance of the thing on a particular date where she saw someone buy ketchup.”
“The safety of the community is what comes first and foremost,” Reese added. “I think it’s incredibly disingenuous to believe this is not a safety issue. It’s an operator issue.”
Mayor Hillary Schieve said she wanted to send a message to the community as a whole with this decision.
“These licenses are privileged for a reason,” Schieve said. “I hope everyone who has [a] privileged license is now on notice that this is what is going to start to happen.”
Council member Naomi Duerr said the owners of Wrightway Market were not banned from selling packaged alcohol permanently. Should they choose to, they would be able to apply for a new privileged license if they moved to another location in the city.
Bianka Dodov of Sierra Crest Business Law Group spoke on behalf of Wrightway Market.
Dodov said that the crime in the area is not the fault of Wrightway Market, and that the owners have put “everything” into their business over the past 25 years.
She said that a customer who purchases alcohol is twice as likely to also buy food, and the business depends on its alcohol sales.
“If this council denies their license renewal, you are effectively signing a death warrant for Wrightway Market,” Dodov said.
Dodov added that since the market was cited by the city, the owners have fixed every item on the citation list, which included graffiti; debris, vomit and trash on the walls or sidewalk; exposed wiring and extension cords; a lack of safety stairway handrails; and a lack of overcurrent protectors and outlet cover plates.
The building has been painted and the exterior walls, sidewalk and street is cleaned by staff multiple times a day, she said.
Following Dodov’s comments, Reese asked what she believed explained the multiple calls for service at or nearby the market.
“There are multiple factors at play, as some members of this council have noted already,” Dodov said. “Part of the unique situation of this store is its location, its proximity facing the bus terminals, the fact that it is the only [store] in the area that has a real selection of fresh food and coffee — it’s more than a convenience store, it’s essentially a mini grocery store.”
Reese then took aim at the attorney, saying that she had accused the council of “targeting small family businesses” and asked what evidence she could provide.
Dodov stated she was quoting directly from a This Is Reno article.
“So you’re saying a blog post provided you your evidence?” Reese asked. “This Is Reno is a blog — it’s not evidence.”
Dodov also pointed out that this is the first time Wrightway Market has ever received a citation for violations.
Reese supported a move to deny the privileged license to Wrightway Market.
“My hope is that whoever operates there, or if this applicant continues to operate there, they’ll do so without selling alcohol,” Reese said.
“I just want to apologize to our police department for having to spend an exorbitant amount of time in this area,” Schieve said.
Schieve went on to say that the Wrightway Market is in the “same scenario” as downtown motel owners who “preyed upon” renters with rooms filled with bed bugs and mold.
“For me as the mayor of the city, I want to send a clear message: Either you’re going to clear it up, or you’re gonna go,” Schieve added. “I’m tired of saying we’re going to clear up downtown. Let’s put our money where our mouth is.”
The license renewal was denied with Brekhus and Ebert opposing the decision.
Lakemill Maxi Mart alcohol license also denied
The renewal for a privileged license of alcohol sales for Lakemill Maxi Mart was also denied, although there were several arguments on whether calls for service were due to the Maxi Mart itself versus the Lakemill Lodge motel it shared a property with.
The owner of Lakemill Maxi Mart argued that the calls for service were coming from or related to Lakemill Lodge, not the convenience store itself and should not be used in consideration of the denial.
He also argued that the convenience store is in compliance with city codes, and has never had a violation prior to September 2022.
In 2021, Lakemill had 696 calls for service, which was the second most calls for service behind Wrightway Market.
Fireside Liquor by comparison only had 267 calls for service in the same time period.
Director of Code Enforcement Alex Woodley said that in addition to calls for service, there were numerous electrical, fire and building code violations noted during a recent inspection, which was after the initial inspection in September.
Within the store during a recent code inspection, multiple electrical code violations were hidden behind a piece of cardboard which had been screwed into the wall, Woodley said, presumably to hide evidence of the violations.
At that time when the violations were discovered, the owner opted to simply rip everything out of the wall and unplug the refrigerator in order to come into compliance with code.
Woodley said that food items and medication for sale, including children’s medication, had expired for up to a year.
“At what point does Maxi Mart stop being responsible for the behavior of other people at a different establishment?”
Deputy Chief Miller said that within the calls for service, there were nine assault and batteries, five assaults with a deadly weapon, 15 fights, one robbery, two sex related offenses, three reports of gun shots — all in addition to a homicide that occurred in front of the Lakemill Maxi Mart, which is still under investigation.
In addition, 96 family disturbance calls were also reported in the area during 2021, Miller said, but admitted that law enforcement could not differentiate between which calls for service came from the motel versus the mini mart since they are located on the same property.
Ebert said that in the memo council received, almost 100% of the calls for service were in relation to the motel.
“I understand the statement that these [calls] are happening because of the alcohol that was purchased at the Maxi Mart, but what I want to know is…at what point does Maxi Mart stop being responsible for the behavior of other people at a different establishment?” Ebert asked.
Miller responded that there were multiple other motels with close proximity to convenience stores that did not have nearly as many calls for service.
“Maxi Mart, much like the Wrightway Market, is the outlier,” Miller said.
Ebert cited some of the crimes reported in the memo, which included recovery of stolen vehicles, possession of drugs, a windshield shot out by an unknown projectile — all of which were reported to have occurred at the motel.
“From my perspective, this looks like a lack of security at the motel,” Ebert said. “I agree this is a lot of calls, but what responsibility does the motel have to secure this location?”
“As I said earlier, bad actors know where they’re welcome,” Miller responded. “With their stolen cars, with their narcotics, with sex trafficking, with robberies and with homicide.”
“I agree,” Ebert said. “Which is at the motel, currently.”
“The Maxi Mart,” Miller said.
“I didn’t see anything stating this was at the Maxi Mart.”
“I’m suggesting that the Maxi Mart is the causal factor,” Miller replied.
Duerr asked whether or not calls for service went down after alcohol sales were suspended similarly to the Wrightway Market.
Miller said the numbers were “balanced” between years.
“We did not have any shots fired calls, and I didn’t have a battery with a deadly weapon call,” he said. “The violence, the nature of calls, actually reduced.”
Ebert also argued that there was recently a homicide outside Reno City Hall, and that it spoke to a larger issue being experienced within the city rather than being attributed to any particular location.
“I feel like we’re looking for someone to blame, and alcohol sales might be it,” she said. “But we need more specific documentation that actually connects the dots from this place as the reason for these calls, and what I’ve been provided says it is happening at the motel.”
There is violence and crime happening across the city, Ebert said, which needs to be addressed throughout the city rather than only at one particular business.
“Violence is going to happen all over the city,” Schieve said. “But what you have to look at is, facts are facts and numbers are numbers. Clearly there’s a problem [at Maxi Mart]. Numbers tell a story.”
“The business owners will now certainly understand that the message from this mayor and this council is that this will not be tolerated anymore,“ Reese said. “It’s time to make some decisions. And there will be more.”
Damon Booth of High West Law spoke on behalf of Lakemill Maxi Mart, and said that the city’s arguments were not supported by data.
“In the six weeks since the license suspension, calls for service were almost identical [from the prior year],” Booth said. “Recovered stolen vehicles have no correlation to my client.”
Booth said there is a cannabis dispensary, a casino that serves alcohol and a brewery district all within a mile of the Maxi Mart and motel.
“Regardless of the decision to use my client as a prop for other liquor license holders, the motel guests are going to find ways to get their alcohol,” Booth said.
He added that within the memo discussing the calls for service, none of them noted that the crimes were alcohol-related, and the other properties law enforcement used in their presentations showing how many more calls for service were received were inaccurate. The properties used were apartments or long-term stay motels, which are not comparable to Lakemill.
“Before you guys make any decisions here, you need more data,” Booth said.
Schieve said she would be siding with law enforcement on the matter.
“When [law enforcement] tells me there are issues, I know there are issues,” Schieve said. “We’ve got your back.”
The council voted to deny the privileged license that would allow the Maxi Mart to sell alcohol again, with Ebert and Brekhus again opposed.