Sioux Falls City Council revokes La Tapatia’s beer license, puts neighbors 'on notice'
Owners support the move if it means making the neighborhood safer in wake of Lucky Lady Casino controversy.
SIOUX FALLS — A Sioux Falls business has been denied the renewal of their malt beverage license in a move the city council determined would help revitalize an embattled neighborhood to the west of downtown.
Mexican grocery store and restaurant La Tapatia, located at 615 W. 11th St., was stripped of its license to sell beer in a 7-1 decision by the Sioux Falls City Council on Tuesday, May 16. The decision came just one week after the Lucky Lady Casino — just a few doors down from La Tapatia — shuttered after losing its license.
Before the council entertained any discussion, Councilor Greg Neitzert used a period of disclosure to make clear that — after his recent visits to the business — the expected license denial had nothing to do with the owners or the establishment. Rather, the decision stemmed from a belief that the area is not fit for alcohol sales.
“My impression was that it’s a very good business and that they want the neighborhood to improve. It’s an asset and it’s not contributing to the problem,” Neitzert said. “There’s absolutely nothing that indicates to me that there's any issue whatsoever with these business owners. They’re frankly to me a victim of circumstance in this case.”
Councilor David Barranco, who visited with Neitzert, agreed. The license revocation was not a question of whether or not the business owners were doing a good job. It was a question of whether the location was fit for the sale of alcohol, he said.
Sierra Broussard, a friend and advocate for La Tapatia owners Abel and Josefina Marquez, told the council that revoking the license would help restore the neighborhood.
“The owners said it's good that we’re cleaning out the neighborhood because of all the alcohol and fighting that's gone on inside his location. He is fine with pulling the alcohol, the beer, out of his establishment,” Broussard said. “This is about revitalizing a neighborhood and getting the poor neighborhood, with crime, that's the hood, back to not the hood again. We have good tenants there — and these are good tenants. If we pull the alcohol away, we won’t have all this craziness.”
Speaking through a translator, Josefina Marquez told the council that she’s okay with losing the license as a result of crime in the neighborhood, but only if other businesses in the same area will also lose theirs.
“I think that I'm not a problem. The problem is outside, because the people go outside to buy their beers and then come to my store to bring some problems because they come [with] outside beer to bring inside my store. Sometimes, my clients leave because they are fighting or having arguments outside. Other times I have to call the police so they come to my store,” she said. “If I lose my license because of beer, I agree with that. My opinion is that if you take my license also you can take Mercato and Munchies, two other stores, because they buy their beer there and come to my store to bring some problems.”
Neitzert followed Marquez's comments with a reminder that the denial was more about the neighborhood than it was about her business.
“It’s clear we need to act, it’s past time. The neighborhood has suffered for far too long, this has festered. This neighborhood in this vicinity has housing and programs that serve those recovering from substance abuse, including alcohol dependency,” he said. “Do I believe that removing alcohol sales from this block will magically solve the neighborhood’s problems with alcoholism? No. Will some walk down the street and buy it somewhere else? Yes. That however, is no excuse for inaction.”
Councilors Marshall Selberg and Rich Merkouris echoed Neitzert in reiterating that La Tapatia serves as a backbone of the community, but noted that more beer and liquor licenses need to be pulled in an effort to lower the saturation of police calls to the area.
Seven council members voted to deny La Tapatia’s license renewal, with Councilor Curt Soehl voting for renewal without comment.
Nearby businesses ‘on notice’
In broader comments, Neitzert made clear that the decision not to renew licenses for Lucky Lady Casino and La Tapatia puts the council in a tough position when it comes to other licenses for nearby businesses.
“This vote has consequences beyond this one business,” Neitzert said. “It sits in the context of the [Lucky Lady Casino] withdrawal we saw last week. … It sits in the context of another one that’s coming up this fall on the other side of this building which sells significant amounts of hard liquor. That is a problem. And it also in the context of frankly any business that could come forward and ask us for a license in the same building.”
Calling the crime problem in the neighborhood “a sickness,” Neitzert said it’s time to begin the area’s recovery through public investment and revitalization efforts.
“We can’t just remove alcohol licenses and walk away. We need to do things that are going to create public investment. We need to do things out there that spur private investment,” Neitzert said. “Every journey starts with one step and I think this is the first step in a very long journey.”
He also issued a warning to the other businesses in the building that may have their licenses coming up for review.
“Based on what we’ve seen on this block, I truly believe that we have to get alcohol out of there, at least for the time being, to start healing. Then when we can turn things around we can talk about reintroducing it,” he said sternly. “Anyone else in the immediate vicinity, particularly in the building, consider yourself on notice and plan accordingly, because I intend to keep consistent with this voting.”
Councilman Pat Starr concurred, noting that the non-renewal of liquor licenses in the area put the council in a “precarious legal position” when considering future renewal applications. He said he plans to continue to vote for non-renewals based on precedent.
In the same meeting, the council approved the applications, renewals or transfers of more than 50 other beer or liquor licenses, including those that involved lottery placements.