The 7-Eleven on the west side of sleepy La Cañada Flintridge might have a soda fountain and two-for-a-dollar doughnut deals, but it is not a normal convenience store. In fact, it is not a convenience store at all.
Customers are greeted upon entrance with rows of alcohol in all varieties – $4 red wine blends and pricy Pinot Noirs from historic Santa Barbara vineyards, Coors Light 12-packs and craft IPA beers. Here is the only 7-Eleven in the country where the stock is mostly alcohol – a liquor store with a Slurpee machine.
Dallas’ 7-Eleven Inc., which owns and runs the store, does not even want to sell liquor there.
But La Cañada Flintridge bans freestanding convenience stores, so when a 7-Eleven franchisee applied to open an outlet at the site of a former liquor store in 2011, city officials forced him to maintain that use. The city even sent over an inspector to make sure it wasn’t selling too many snacks, issuing a citation at one point for not stocking enough alcohol, which was upheld after a nine-hour hearing.
Then, late last year, officials passed a new ordinance banning store sales of alcohol past midnight – affecting only the 7-Eleven, which is open all night.
7-Eleven has fought the requirement to be a liquor store in court and last month filed a legal challenge to the new late-night alcohol ban.
“Obviously, this affects 7-Eleven’s ability to do business,” said Stephen Jamieson, an attorney representing the chain. “It’s arbitrary, capricious and discriminatory.”
The result is a curious fight between a store fighting to sell less alcohol but also seeking to sell it for longer hours, and a city that wants to clamp down on alcohol sales but is forcing a store to sell liquor.
City officials, for their part, defend their right to impose restrictions. They said they were obeying long-held zoning laws in requiring the 7-Eleven to sell liquor and are justified by public safety concerns to prohibit late-night alcohol sales.
“We thought there was no reason to have any kind of attraction for alcohol-related incidents in the community,” Mayor Laura Olhasso said of the late-night ban. “It is ironic that we’re saying, ‘No convenience store. You have to be a liquor store.’ But that’s also what our code is.”
The city passed the freestanding convenience store ban in 1995, and neither Olhasso nor City Planner Fred Buss, who has worked on the 7-Eleven project, could outline the reasons for it. But such stores don’t fit neatly into the image of La Cañada Flintridge, an enclave of 20,000 people in the foothills northwest of Pasadena that boasted median household income of $155,000 in 2012, two-and-a-half times higher than the statewide figure.