An East San Jose convenience store with a controversial history has received a permit to sell alcohol, despite concerns of underage drinking and increasing crime in the area.
The San Jose Planning Commission on Sept. 27 granted Fast Mart, a convenience store at 1484 S. White Road in the Mount Pleasant South neighborhood, a conditional use permit to sell alcohol for consumption off-site.
The commission voted 8-2 in favor, with Commissioners Louis Barocio and Jorge Garcia voting no, in part due to concerns from residents and a lack of community support during the meeting for the application. Commissioner Chuck Cantrell was absent.
“I would love for more community engagement, I would love more happy campers in the community and at least for today, I’m not seeing it,” Barocio said.
Some residents and officials say the store, previously called the La Vista Mini Market under different ownership, has a troubled reputation of selling alcohol to minors and other violations that cost the store its state liquor license.
“This specific place has been kind of a hangout, a place for underage kids to be drinking. A lot of issues have happened there,” Jesus Flores, an East San Jose resident and real estate agent, told San José Spotlight.
Flores is president and CEO of Latino Business Foundation of Silicon Valley, but said he’s speaking as a longtime resident and parent of kids who attend nearby schools.
Jitender Grewal, the new owner of the store, said he recognizes the past issues and wants to turn its reputation around.
“We will take the responsible sales of alcohol very seriously,” Grewal told commissioners. “We will dedicate to implementing stringent security measures, comprehensive staff training programs and rigorous age verification protocols to ensure the utmost safety and responsibility.”
The alcohol permit approval includes conditions that there will always be a security guard present during business hours, which Grewal said would help prevent people from loitering or drinking in the parking lot. The store plans to have 36 security cameras for a roughly 1,500-square-foot business.
Flores said having a security guard is usually a good idea for a business, but in this case, “just the fact that they need to have a security guard” is concerning.
Public commenters expressed a litany of concerns at the meeting, including that alcohol sales will cause more problems with crime, and possibly endanger kids who might try to buy liquor.
“Please for god’s sake, no liquor store here,” Lonny Hardin told commissioners. “I’ve seen kids hanging out, they won’t leave the property and they cause trouble, they end up getting arrested right in front of the liquor store. We don’t want trouble with the cops.”
The Mount Pleasant Neighborhood Association wrote to the city earlier this year to oppose the permit, as well.
City reports note the store serves as a neighborhood market, selling not just chips and soft drinks, “but a full range of grocery items” including eggs, bread, meat and dairy products. But concerns remained.
“Let’s be honest, this is not going to be a grocery store, it’s a liquor place that sells groceries as well,” Flores said.
‘Proper grocery market’
Grewal told San José Spotlight he doesn’t understand why people opposed his business. He said his store accepts EBT, a government benefit program to help lower income earners buy groceries, while other stores in the area do not.
“I want to make a really proper grocery market where people feel safe and can buy groceries at really good prices,” Grewal said. He noted the alcohol inventory will only account for 5% of his floor space—a condition set by the city.
He said the store has suffered from its past reputation, but he is working to build business back up, including by ensuring his grocery selections are always fresh. He claimed the previous store sometimes sold expired products.
The San Jose Police Department opposed the permit for the business in a February memo that referenced the prior owner.
“The business has demonstrated that they are not responsible and do not follow basic rules set forth by (California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control) or local laws,” the memo said.
It also noted a “large volume” of calls for service in the area within 1,000 feet of the store, and the presence of schools and places of worship nearby. In July the police changed course and took a neutral stance on the application in a second memo. City reports said that memo took into account the new ownership.
Only one other business, a 7-Eleven, has an active liquor license for off-site consumption within 1,000 feet of the store. Up to four are allowed in that area under city guidelines, city reports said.
Commissioner Sylvia Ornelas-Wise echoed other commissioners and said she believes in good faith that Grewal will improve the business and the community.
“Obviously the community here is on high alert,” Ornelas-Wise said. “I don’t think you should get punished for what someone did in the past.”