The Honolulu Liquor Commission plans to renew the license of a Chinatown liquor store in the face of significant opposition from community members and government officials.
“This is outrageous,” said Chu Lan Shubert-Kwock, president of the Chinatown Business &Community Association and chairwoman of the Downtown-
Chinatown Neighborhood Board.
But a commission spokesperson said the agency is merely providing due process to Maunakea Liquor &Grocery and will further address the business’
liquor license in coming months.
In the meantime, spokesperson Cathy Lee said the commission is compelled to renew the annual license July 1 because the agency has no grounds to deny the renewal.
The liquor store on Maunakea Street has come under increasing criticism with a growing number of complaints from Chinatown residents, neighboring businesses, elected officials and police about illegal activity linked to the store.
The store came under a larger spotlight one year ago when former sportscaster John Noland, 60, died from a head injury he received outside the store, along with contributing factors of heart disease and obesity, as well as alcohol and probable cocaine intoxication.
The commission had
issued a written statement saying that due to the large number of complaints, it filed a petition to not renew the store’s liquor license and to allow the community to be heard.
Among the throng who spoke out against the store at a commission meeting in May was Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell, who made his first-ever appearance before the Honolulu Liquor Commission to testify against the liquor store.
A police commander, members of the Downtown-Chinatown Neighborhood Board and area politicians also appeared
before the commission
requesting denial of the
Caldwell told commissioners that between January 2018 and May 2019 Honolulu Police Department officers were called to the store
70 times, for scores of nuisance complaints and to break up fights. At least three calls were related to the selling of alcohol to minors or to those without an identification, he said.
“I’m not asking that you shut down the store. I’m asking that you consider revoking the liquor license,” Caldwell said.
Others said the store
was a magnet for drunks, drug users, people with mental health problems
Attorney Bill Harrison, representing store owner John Kim, objected to the accusations and anecdotal stories, saying they should be stricken from the record. He also said the police are responsible for any crimes committed on the street.
On June 6 Maunakea
Liquor &Grocery faced the Liquor Commissionfor a Feb. 8 violation in which
the licensee sold, served or furnished liquor to a minor and/or allowed consumption by a minor on the
The store’s representative asked for the matter to be continued, saying reports about the incident had not been received by the store. A delay was granted to a date to be determined in late July.
Meanwhile, all liquor
licenses in Honolulu are
renewed annually at the
beginning of the fiscal year July 1.
“It was the position of
the Honolulu Liquor Commission to release the
license renewal because
we had no standing to withhold it without cause,” Lee said in an email. “There was not any statutory authority to deny renewal and the agency does not want to jeopardize the licensee’s due process.”
There was no vote on the matter, Lee added.
But Shubert-Quock, a
former Honolulu Liquor Commission member for eight years, said the agency is dodging its responsibility and “protecting its okole.”
She said Hawaii’s revised statutes give the commission the latitude to suspend a license, with or without cause, for the safety of the public.
“It’s a privilege to sell
liquor, not a right,” she said. “The commission seems to have forgotten its mission. This is not protecting our community. Why is the commission’s due process not considered in protecting
the public’s best interest? It appears the store’s interests are more important than community safety.”
Shubert-Quock said she knows by experience that
legal maneuvers can delay
a liquor license adjudication for months, even years, while the selling of alcohol continues.
“This is not a fair situation for the community to bear,” she said.
In May Shubert-Quock presented to the liquor
commission a petition signed by 80 Chinatown shop owners describing
the liquor store as having
a “profound” negative impact on the neighborhood, as being a hub for violence and a gathering place for drug dealers and criminals.
James Logue, another member of the Downtown-
Chinatown Neighborhood Board, expressed frustration that community pleas are being ignored.
“The renewal of this store’s liquor license was a complete smack in the face to our community and those who are fighting to take back our streets and clean up our public spaces,” Logue said in an email.