Shoppers at the new Ralphs supermarket in the Beverly Connection shopping center have been looking elsewhere for beer, wine and spirits since the store opened last month because protests from neighbors have blocked its liquor license, at least temporarily.
Ralphs sold liquor for 30 years at its old store on the corner of 3rd Street and La Cienega Boulevard. But a handful of protests have stymied the chain's attempt to transfer its license to the new location two blocks away.
"This community has suffered enough with the number of liquor licenses in the area," said Diana Plotkin, vice president of the Beverly Wilshire Homeowners Assn.
Plotkin, one of six residents who filed protests with the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, argued that restaurants, stores and other outlets sell liquor at more than 100 locations within a third of a mile of the new store.
The neighbors also said that granting the license would lead to parking shortages, traffic jams, loitering and juvenile delinquency.
"We're investigating to determine if these allegations are valid and if this license should be issued," said Warren Tankersley, district administrator of the alcoholic beverage board. He could not predict when the issue would be resolved.
Although Ralphs has appealed to its shoppers to sign petitions urging the board to transfer the store's liquor license, Tankersley said the decision was up to an administrative law judge.
"This is not a popularity contest. It's a matter of whether the issues are accurate," he said.
At the new Ralphs, replete with gourmet goodies to compete with the Irvine Ranch Market across the street, petitions at checkout stands urge the alcoholic beverage board to allow the sale of liquor from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m.
A placard apologizes to shoppers for liquor department shelves stocked with encyclopedias and stuffed Easter bunnies. "We ask that you sign the petition and talk with your neighbors about helping us obtain a liquor license so that we can continue to serve you," the sign says.
Several thousand patrons have shown their support by signing the petitions, said Gene Brown, senior vice president of the 136-store chain.
No Previous Complaints
He said there were no complaints about the sale of liquor at the old store, which closed Jan. 18, and that Ralphs does not expect any problems at the new location, which opened Jan. 19.
The old site, which is across the street from the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, was bought by the hospital in 1987. Cedars-Sinai intends to use the site for parking, a hospital spokesman said.
The new location, twice as big as the old one, is part of a Ralphs strategy to open new stores in the 50,000-square-foot range while abandoning the chain's 70,000- to 100,000-square-foot Giant emporiums. Its liquor department was intended to have a wide selection of wines and a full complement of beer and spirits, Brown said, adding that liquor departments are very important for supermarkets.
"You obviously don't like to have a customer make a stop someplace else, because that's inconvenient to the customer," he said.
But Plotkin said that shoppers could just as well patronize the fully stocked liquor department at the drugstore at the Beverly Boulevard end of the shopping center.
"I don't think people in the community who live near that Ralphs will have any problem breaking up their shopping. If they want it bad enough, it's certainly available in the area," she said.
Plotkin, a vocal critic of City Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky, said her group acted against Ralphs because the city has failed to protect the neighborhood against the impact of the new development, which is catty-cornered from the controversial Ma Maison Sofitel hotel.
But Yaroslavsky said prolonged negotiations resulted in a scaling-down of the Beverly Connection project from an original proposal of 1.1 million square feet of office buildings and a hotel to its final size of 296,000 square feet of mainly commercial uses.
He said the parking garage next to the new Ralphs contains five parking spaces for every 1,000 square feet of floor space, which would be "more than adequate for their needs."
Saul Panski, president of a condominium association on nearby Croft Avenue, said his group would withdraw its objections to the liquor license if Ralphs cuts back its hours of operation.
"We're not opposed per se to Ralphs selling alcoholic beverages, but we are opposed to them being allowed to operate 24 hours. Some of the other homeowner groups have more global concerns," he said.
But Brown said that although the issue of restricted hours came up in the negotiations, Ralphs decided to open on a 24-hour schedule once it became clear that Plotkin and her associates would not drop their objections.
He said that only six outlets in the Ralphs chain are not open 24 hours.
Similar protests were filed against the sale of liquor at supermarkets in West Hollywood and Beverly Hills in 1987, but the alcoholic beverage board eventually granted the liquor licenses on condition that no alcohol be sold after 11 p.m.