ALTADENA — Stig Erlander, molecular biologist, nutritionist and the proprietor of a natural products store here, says he can't help but think the local Town Council has misunderstood his intentions.
Erlander, whose 70 published works in science include articles on the therapeutic benefits of wine, figured an organic wine would be a perfect complement to his store's products, alongside the homemade soap and olive oil and the popular roach killer he concocts from everyday kitchen spices.
So last month, Erlander applied to the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control for a license to sell two commercial brands of organic wine at the store he runs with his wife, Leatrice. He posted the requisite 30-day public notice on the front of the business at 2279 N. Lake Ave.
But in the weeks since, Erlander's plans have met with stiff opposition in unincorporated Altadena, a cautious community whose leaders attribute high rates of crime and unemployment partly to a proliferation of "ghetto-type" liquor stores in impoverished areas of west Altadena. Some community leaders have even argued for a moratorium on the awarding of liquor licenses.
Although Erlander's Natural Products is located in a main commercial area of east Altadena, the Town Council--an advisory body--voted 8 to 4 to oppose Erlander's application in a letter to the Alcoholic Beverage Control. department. Sheriff's officials here also said they will also file a report with the state agency asking that the application be denied.
"I think the Town Council has this vision of another liquor store popping up in town. But we're not looking to be that," Erlander said. "Our concept is to sell healthy items that are hard to find. I think organic wine fits perfectly into that definition."
Erlander said the wine he wants to sell is made without the sulfur dioxide and other chemicals used to enhance clarity in regular wines. The organic wine, which has an alcohol content of 12%, sells for $4 to $5 a bottle.
Alcoholic Beverage Control officials said a final decision on the application must await further investigation and possibly a hearing, but Erlander believes the community's opposition will force the agency to rule against him.
So the 58-year-old Erlander, an iconoclast who has been running headlong into scientific convention ever since his days as a government researcher, is preparing to wage battle again.
Armed with his articles detailing the medicinal value of wine, Erlander will argue his case before the Town Council at its next meeting on Feb. 18. He hopes to win the council's approval, which would help him successfully appeal a possible adverse decision by the Alcoholic Beverage Control department.
Erlander said his first fight against "so-called conventional wisdom" was his model on how starch is synthesized in plants. He said his model differed from accepted theory by asserting that glycogen, a complex sugar, was present in all plants and converted to starch. Two years ago he presented his model to the 12th International Carbohydrate Symposium in Holland.
"It was ridiculed at first. Everyone said it was impossible because glycogen was present only in some plants. But after 30 years, some people have come to accept my theory.
"I hope it doesn't take as many years to convince the Town Council that organic wine is a food that can be beneficial."
Frank Bridal, president of the Town Council, acknowledged that community leaders may have acted a bit hastily in recommending that the application be denied.
"I have some question whether a health food store selling a health wine is really a detriment to the community," said Bridal, who did not vote on the matter.
"We'll give him a fair shake. If the council so chooses, they can rescind their opposition."
Erlander's Natural Products promotes itself as "Nature's Department Store" on its blue and yellow awning, the colors of the flag of Sweden where Erlander's parents were born.
Walking into Erlander's, the first-time visitor might expect the store to cause more consternation to fire officials than to members of a Town Council concerned with too many liquor outlets. Small and narrow, the store has the appearance of a warehouse, with boxes stacked everywhere and racks of clothes bunched together.
Erlander's is really a small department store for those who wish to swaddle themselves from head to toe in natural fabrics. The selection includes 100% cotton panties, wool ties and blankets, flannel sheets and cotton jogging suits.
"We don't stock anything made of petroleum products," Leatrice Erlander said. "When polyester clothes heat up, they give off harmful byproducts that are inhaled or absorbed through the skin," she asserted.
Only a small section of the store is devoted to food and home products. The olive oil is processed without lye, unlike many store-bought brands. Erlander makes two types of his own soap, one containing olive oil and the other made with California Zinfandel wine.