Merivale to be surveyed on liquor outlet

Part of the committee outside the local liquor shop. Photo: Daniel Hines.

It was reported to be an alcohol-fuelled and scary episode – and one the Merivale Community Residents Committee doesn’t want happening at their backdoor.

The committee was told that about 3pm last Friday, just as school was coming out, drunken people were insulting traders in the Merivale shopping centre. And it’s understood at least one trader pulled passing schoolkids into their shop and barricaded it for their safety.

“That should not be happening,” according to joint statement from the committee. Merivale, it says, should be a safe suburb.

It’s not known if the booze that triggered the incident was bought from the local liquor outlet, but the committee says, regardless, the behaviour was typical of the problems caused by alcohol in the shopping centre.

So the Merivale Community Residents Committee intends to survey each of the 850 households in Merivale to consider three options. Do they want the liquor store gone when its licence expires mid-December? Are they all good with the liquor store and want it to stay? Or do they want the outlet to change its operating hours so there’s less exposure to children?

It will be an anonymous survey with just the street and gender of the respondent recorded.

This all comes as a complete surprise to Simranjit Singh, whose company runs the Merivale Liquor Centre. “If there are issues then we didn’t know about them. And if the community centre has problems with our shop, I would like the opportunity to discuss those problems with them. We want to fix any problems. We want be a part of the community, not destroy it.”

He feels it’s unfair because there has been no consultation. And after all, he says, the liquor shop has been a responsible part of the community for 20 years.

“We’ve had many, many ongoing complaints,” says Sybille Steppart, chair of the local residents sub-committee.

 “But we want the community to decide what is good for it. If it wants the shop gone we will fight renewal of the licence in December, and if they want to keep it, we will walk away. The liquor shop will stay. The issue is in the community’s hands.”

Simranjit says the company has already demonstrated some social responsibility by voluntarily changing its operating hours – it opens later, well after the kids have gone to school.

First the residents committee will distribute leaflets headed: “What is your opinion -  does the Merivale Liquor Store pose a risk for our well-being in the Merivale community.” Plus the options and some of the issues.

Children, says the sub-committee, walk past the liquor store to school. It says their unnecessary exposure to the liquor trade “increases their vulnerability to adopted associated behaviours and addictions”.

The committee also says the Merivale liquor store is in an alcohol-free zone and there have been many complaints of bottles being opened by clients leaving the premises. The committee says there have been many reports of store customers fighting, vandalism, broken bottles and litter. And as a Treaty partner, the sub-committee says there is a responsibility to protect struggling communities from immediate exposure to harmful substances like alcohol.

It’s all about convenience according to the committee – if alcohol wasn’t so readily available within walking distance in Merivale, people might think twice. Or they’d drive to a supermarket or outlet and take it home.

Simranjit Singh isn’t so sure. His store is one of four off-licences within a one kilometer radius of Merivale. “So alcohol is available anywhere they want. And if we closed, it wouldn’t mean alcohol was unavailable.” He was also unaware of any trouble caused by clients, and he was certainly including last Friday’s alleged incident.

He was also dubious about the survey. He believes the leaflet drop plus door-knocking would polarise people against his store. “The survey would be more fair if it was just dropped in letterboxes for people to respond if they chose.”

In the meantime he intends approaching the community centre to discuss their concerns and find some solutions. He also says the store has contributed by paying for community Christmas trees, paint to spruce up the shopping centre and they readily make available security camera footage when required.

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