Owners of the Wrightway Market lost their ability to sell alcohol following multiple complaints about behaviors in the area that were attributed to the store’s sales, according to city officials, as well as the proximity to the RTC Transit Station and a substance abuse treatment facility.
The market, at 330 Evans Ave., was barred from selling alcohol in November 2022 after police claimed the business was to blame for an increase in crime in the surrounding area due to alcohol sales.
At the time, Wrightway’s attorney argued that the RTC transit station was actually the cause for the criminal behavior and that they had never received a violation from the city until their license to sell alcohol was revoked.
Law enforcement argued that, in 2021, the market had nearly double the calls for service as other nearby businesses that also sell prepackaged alcohol.
Since Wrightway Market was barred from selling alcohol, there has been a 74% reduction in calls for service at the business, leading to the Reno Police Department and RTC both recommending denial of the appeal, city officials claimed.
Owner Opinder Dhillon said the decrease in calls for service is attributed to the fact that he and his employees no longer call the police for fear of having the calls used against them and that a nearby homeless shelter has since closed.
“We have always paid taxes on time and have implemented all of the [Reno police] recommendations.”
Dhillon said that he and his employees have taken it upon themselves to “clean up the block,” because he takes compliance seriously and has never failed an inspection.
“My business and I have always been a good actor,” Dhillon said. “We have always paid taxes on time and have implemented all of the [Reno police] recommendations.”
Dhillon said that if his business goes under due to not being able to sell alcohol, it will also remove the only grocery store in the area, which will be especially important given the new Ballpark Apartments opening nearby.
“Wrightway isn’t just a business, it is a neighborhood market,” Dhillon said.
Dhillon said that since the Community Assistance Center homeless shelter was closed, he has had “no more trouble” on his premises. Dhillon showed photos of the area in front of his store, which is clear of debris and trash, compared with photos of nearby blocks that are inundated with trash, weeds and personal effects of homeless individuals.
Calls for service are being unfairly attributed to his store, he argued, when individuals are simply in the nearby area, such as a call that occurred in January. In a video presented by Dhillon, an individual was arguing with a Reno Ambassador in the street near the market, and when police arrived, Dhillon asked them not to put the call on their address. However, he said, RPD did just that, which unfairly penalizes their business.
In a similar call for service, an elderly gentleman called for an ambulance from the market, as shown also on video.
“We are human,” Dhillon said. “If someone asks us for help, we have to call.”
Still, this call for service is added to the market’s record, along with several other calls that simply occurred in the vicinity but did not involve the market directly, according to Dhillon who provided video surveillance for each incident he cited.
The Reno City Council on Wednesday voted to uphold the decision to deny the conditional use permit to sell alcohol at the market, citing past problems.
Council member Meghan Ebert said there could be a number of reasons calls for service have gone down, and she would be in favor of granting the beer and wine license.
“I’m concerned about food deserts downtown [if the store goes out of business],” Ebert said. “And we have a 72% vacancy rate in downtown already. We should be supporting businesses.”
Council member Devon Reese asked Dhillon who wrote the attachments to his application because they allegedly contained legal terms. Upon review of the attachment, no overtly legal language can be found within the letter.
“The calls for service were the basis for removing the license, but now they’re a red herring, and they’re not relevant? It did matter, and now it doesn’t matter at all?”
Mayor Hillary Schieve said, without explanation, that there were some “relationships happening here” that she said was “really unfortunate.”
“I’m not even going to mention it because I don’t think it deserves enough air, so I’m just going to move away from these relationships, I think we all know what I’m talking about,” Schieve said.
She then looked at Council member Jenny Brekhus and said, “You know what I’m talking about.”
Brekhus laughed and said, “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Yes you do,” Schieve argued.
“No, I don’t, and I don’t know if I care,” Brekhus said.
“You don’t need to care,” Schieve said.
It was never made clear what Schieve was referring to.
Several members of the council, including Reese, made reference to the fact that they were basing their decision on the proximity to the rehab center and the transit station. However, Wrightway Market was selling alcohol before the rehab facility moved in, and Dhillon said he believes they are no longer in operation.
“I’m not asking for input,” Reese responded.
No one commented on whether or not the substance abuse facility is still in operation. Additionally, there is no direct access to Wrightway Market from the rehab facility, and individuals would have to walk from Record Street to Fourth Street and then back up onto Evans Avenue to access the market.
However, the Record Street Brewing Company is located next to the facility and appears to share a parking lot, and there are multiple other breweries and bars within a two block radius of the facility.
“It’s difficult to have ‘compatibility’ in a packed urban environment, and I’m not moved by that [argument],” Brekhus said. She argued that crime occurs all over the downtown sector, but the council is not suggesting to revoke any privileged licenses of businesses in the vicinity of where other crimes have occurred.
Reese and Schieve also said that the calls for service do not factor into the decision, and Reese said they were a “red herring.”
“I’m confused,” Ebert said. “The calls for service were the basis for removing the license, but now they’re a red herring, and they’re not relevant? It did matter, and now it doesn’t matter at all?”
The council voted to uphold the denial of the appeal. Brekhus and Ebert voted against the denial.