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The Bottleneck : Squeezed by Tough Restrictions, Only a Few of the Hundreds of Liquor Stores Damaged During the Riots Have Reopened.

August 29, 1993|GREG KRIKORIAN

Bucket of Blood, they used to call it. And for years, Bloom's Liquor Store, at 39th and Normandie, lived up to the nickname.

It was a place, police and neighbors say, where beatings and stabbings and shootings were commonplace. Where cheap wine, malt liquor and drugs flowed freely in the parking lot, often turning it into a marketplace of mayhem.

"Bloom's was a terrible liquor store," said Sgt. Bob Fox of the Los Angeles Police Department's Southwest Division vice squad. "There were a lot of shootings outside and near that store . . . a terrible narcotics problem. That liquor store was probably the major headache" for the division, he said.

So when last year's riots leveled Bloom's, there weren't buckets of tears shed by authorities or neighbors.

"It was really very tragic the place got burned down," said Sylvia Castillo of the Community Coalition for Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment, a federally funded agency that wants to see fewer liquor stores in South-Central. "And yet even in that tragedy, people have had so much relief" because the store is gone.

It has been more than a year since about 300 liquor stores were destroyed in the riots, and only a few have been rebuilt. In South-Central, which once had more than 700 liquor outlets, only 10 of the 200 stores destroyed in the riots have reopened, according to the Community Coalition. Similarly, officials say, only a few of the 100 or so other stores in Koreatown, Hollywood and other riot-scarred areas have returned.

"The bottom line is that since the riots, not a whole lot of (stores) have come back," said Jerry Jolly, deputy division chief of the state Alcoholic Beverage and Control Board.

Significantly, the stores that have rebuilt--or plan to--also are subject to new land use restrictions imposed for years in other parts of the city--parts that were newer, parts where neighborhoods and politicians long ago mobilized to protest problem liquor stores.

Although the South-Central Organizing Committee began to champion tighter restrictions on local liquor stores a decade ago, it took some time for their clout to build. And even then, authorities say, there was little that could be done to control many problem liquor stores because they had been operating for decades with few or no government restrictions.

Before the riots, prodding by community groups led city officials to focus new attention on troubling inner-city stores. After the riots, when those stores came to the city to rebuild, the opportunity was presented to finally impose tougher regulations.

The requirements include shorter hours, private security guards, a ban on the sale of individual cups or glasses, and a prohibition on flashing signs that advertise liquor to passersby. And the restrictions, championed for years by groups like the South-Central Organizing Committee, have clearly dulled the interest among some inner-city store owners about reopening.

Some see that as reason to cheer.

Said Castillo: "If there is one issue that has galvanized South-Central since the civil unrest, it is that people don't want liquor stores back in their neighborhoods."

However, others complain that liquor stores are being made scapegoats for problems that are far more complicated than who sells alcohol.

"It's almost like a witch hunt," said Ryan Song of the Korean-American Grocers Assn.

So onerous are the restrictions on stores that sell liquor, say Song and others, that since the riots, only a third of the 180 Korean-American-owned outlets destroyed have even applied to rebuild. And so far, just six have cleared all the legal and financial hurdles involved in reopening to the city's specifications, according to Song and Min Paek, executive director of the Korean-American Grocers Victims Assn., which represents almost 200 stores.

"Only 60 of 180 have applied to reopen," Paek said. "The rest were flabbergasted that they had to go through so much."

Flustered but hoping to reopen is Bloom's owner, Charles Chong Paek (no relation to Min).

For almost two years before the riots, Charles Paek said, he and his family made a good living at Bloom's. He, his wife and son worked long hours every day, Paek said, keeping the store open from 7 a.m. to midnight. And for their hard work, he said, they cleared about $50,000 to $60,000 a year as a family.

But that income, he said, would be more than wiped out if the city successfully imposes new restrictions on Bloom's, such as reducing operating hours to 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and requiring two licensed security guards to patrol the store and parking lot during business hours.

The guards alone could cost $8,000 a month, he said.

"I can't do business" with the proposed conditions, Paek said through an interpreter. "If it's final, I'm looking someplace else" for a store.

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