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Closing Liquor Stores, Hoping to Gain Public Health

A new zoning code in Baltimore will reduce the number of liquor stores in the city in hopes of reducing the violent crime rate. Will there be unintended consequences?
May 22, 2019, 1pm PDT | LM_Ortiz
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Nicole S Glass

It was at least a decade ago when researchers from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health turned their attention to Baltimore’s effort to revise its decades-old zoning code. Many research papers, meetings, and draft revisions later, the results of the policy change they brought about—a reduction in the number of liquor stores in Baltimore’s residential neighborhoods—will finally take effect on June 5.

Research has shown that there is a definitive link between the number of liquor outlets and a city’s violent crime rate. Will the communities surrounding the closed stores actually experience the desired outcome? That will probably take another few years to determine. Still, the Baltimore story shows how innovative ideas can gradually be translated into real regulations. It also illustrates that even when the desired outcomes occur, members of the community can be negatively affected.

A few store owners have changed their businesses, but many others don’t quite get what’s about to happen to them, says Mario Chang, KAGRO’s president. “There are a lot of mom and pop owners and some of them have been there for 20 years, 30 years. These businesses were their retirement,” says Chang. “They don’t really understand about the closing.” Starting over will be hard for many of them.

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Published on Monday, May 20, 2019 in Shelterforce Magazine
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