Valley Station precinct votes to allow alcohol sales, nearby neighborhoods still dry

Residents of southwest Louisville’s Valley Station neighborhood voted 102-31 on Tuesday to allow alcohol sales in their small A128 precinct, which was one of only 22 in Jefferson County’s more than 600 precincts to still be all or partially dry.

While several business owners in the precinct cheered on the vote, other proprietors nearby and in other precincts of Louisville that remain dry are hoping such freedoms will extend their way in the future.

Melton Food Mart in the still-dry part of Valley Station

Melton Food Mart in the still-dry part of Valley Station

Local business owners in Valley Station’s A128 precinct have complained for years that they could not serve alcohol in their gas stations or restaurants, even though other businesses as close as across the street in wet precincts could do so. After receiving signatures from 25 percent of registered voters in the precinct, the successful wet/dry vote was placed on the ballot for a special election on Tuesday.

But this victory did not extend to Wayne Cheatham, the owner of Melton Food Mart, which sits directly across Third Street Road from the A128 precinct in the still-dry J137 district. Cheatham originally thought he was within A128, only to discover he was just a few yards away from now being able to sell alcohol in his store.

“I have people coming in here all the time wanting at least beer,” says Cheatham. “I have Circle K sitting right here within a five-minute walk. Now (stores even closer within A128) are going to have it, too.”

Cheatham says he’s already starting the push to change his precinct to wet, as he contacted the office of his council member David Yates and plans to meet with his staff “in the next couple of days and work on that to get something done here.”

A128 was one of 11 precincts along south Dixie Highway that were either partially or totally dry. In 2007, four precincts in west Louisville’s Shawnee neighborhood joined the ranks of the dry, as a movement led by ministers and Councilwoman Cheri Bryant Hamilton successfully petitioned for a special election, and voters overwhelmingly chose to ban alcohol sales. The movement’s adherents did so because they believed alcohol sales where causing high crime rates.

The precincts in red are currently either fully or partially dry

The precincts in red are currently either fully or partially dry

That temperance movement did not sit well at the time with Jimmy Muhammed, owner of the Marathon gas station and F&Y Food Mart at 38th and West Market Street. Muhammed still owns and manages the business, which has survived the prohibition on alcohol sales, even though such sales are still allowed at a grocery store across the street from him in a precinct that remained wet.

Muhammed and his relatives — all Palestinian-American immigrants — have operated businesses in the West End for over three decades, but all of those businesses are in precincts that were made dry in 2007. While their businesses have adapted and still succeeded — partly due to their long ties and standing in the community — he says it is not fair to indiscriminately target business because they literally sit on the wrong side of the street.

“If you want to ban all alcohol, that’s fine,” says Muhammed. “But make the whole district dry, don’t just pick and choose who is going to be able to sell alcohol.”

Muhammed and his relatives fought the 2007 wet/dry vote in the court system, but eventually lost after spending a good deal of money on attorneys. Muhammed is happy to hear of the progress being made for business owners in Valley Station but is resigned to the fate of alcohol sales in Shawnee for the time being.

“(Valley Station) was just one of those old rules, but the way they did it here was just a load of crap,” says Muhammed. “There’s nothing we can do about it now. But we’re still in business, we’re still paying our taxes, we’re still trying to make a living.”

Muhammed adds that the arbitrary zones of prohibition on alcohol sales and the scapegoating of businesses who sell beer is hypocritical posturing by West End leaders.

“You want to go after the taxpaying businessman who’s working his ass off and say, ‘You’re the problem in the West End selling malt liquor and Colt 45?’” says Muhammed. “What? Are you serious? I’m the problem? You’re scared to bust crack dealers on the corner, but you want to go after us. That was the whole purpose of Councilwoman Hamilton, to make it look like she’s cleaning up the West End. Come on now.”