Denver’s licensing department has decided that despite the concerns of police and a city councilwoman, a liquor store can remain open on what one police lieutenant called a “little patch of asphalt (with) the highest concentration of violent crime” in the city.
Avondale Liquors at 1365 N. Federal Blvd., just south of Colfax Avenue and across the street from an RTD station, applied for renewal of its liquor store license in June 2021. What followed was a protracted, 14-month debate about crime in and around the small shop.
Denver Police Lt. Jacob Herrera testified at an October hearing — one of five public hearings about Avondale — that police initially believed RTD’s Decatur-Federal station was to blame for the area’s high crime rate but later determined the liquor store is.
Herrera testified that most violent crime in that area takes place on Avondale’s property and alcohol is usually involved. He accused the store’s owner of not filing charges when shoplifting occurs there.
At a December hearing Zaid Ghebremeskeris, who purchased the store in early 2020 after a career as a nursing assistant, denied that she excuses shoplifting and accused DPD officers of not coming when she calls.
Ghebremeskeris said an angry loiterer once poured gasoline on her at the store and others have made violent and racist threats.
Michael DeMatte, the liquor store’s landlord and previous owner, testified that he will make improvements to the building but blamed crime and public intoxication there on neighboring Paco Sanchez Park, along with the Decatur-Federal station and bus stops.
DPD crime analyst Lindsey Horvat, one of four DPD employees to testify about Avondale, called 14th and Federal a “persistently violent hotspot” and the store an “attractor” for crime but noted three other attractors: RTD bus stops, the light rail station and the park. When the liquor store closed for 40 days in 2021, crime rates did not drop, she testified in November.
Neighbors had mixed reviews. Richard Vigil, an occasional customer, said in November that the park, not Avondale, is to blame for crime there. Carlos Bonilla, who manages a tire shop next door, placed some blame on the Decatur-Federal station but said at a November hearing that crime and loitering worsened after Ghebremeskeris bought the business.
Councilwoman Jamie Torres, who represents the area, opposed renewing Avondale’s license. She testified that she tried talking to its owner about proposed changes, such as removing a food truck and ending the sale of single-serving drinks, to no avail.
Avondale’s fate was decided by Molly Duplechian, executive director of the Denver Department of Excise and Licenses. In a decision last week, she wrote that there is “a continuing pattern of fights, public intoxication, drug use and other violent events in and around” Avondale.
“It has been operating in a manner that has increased and welcomed further deterioration of the safety of the neighborhood,” she said of the liquor store Aug. 24.
Duplechian did not close Avondale but placed conditions on its license. Avondale must hire a security guard on weekend nights, ensure employees not work alone after 3 p.m., prohibit loitering and drinking on its property, and do a better job cleaning and removing graffiti.