No beer, no business

With its alcohol license denied, Mangrove Mini Mart’s future looks bleak

Charanjiv Singh says his convenience store won’t last without being able to sell alcohol.

Charanjiv Singh says his convenience store won’t last without being able to sell alcohol.

Photo By Howard Hardee

Charanjiv Singh, the owner of the Mangrove Mini Mart at the corner of Fifth and Mangrove avenues, says he has been treated unfairly in his pursuit of an alcohol license.

The Chico City Council’s recent 6-1 vote to deny his application for an off-sale beer and wine license is a decision that will bring him “extreme financial hardship” in the near future, Singh said during a recent interview. He estimates that the resulting loss of business will force him to close the convenience store in six months to a year and a half.

“The purpose of the convenience store is to carry a little bit of everything,” he said, insisting that customers will bypass his store in favor of others up the road.

The India-born, first-time business owner purchased the convenience store—which had been closed for roughly a year after decades of operation—back in January 2012. At the time, he was under the impression that he would have no problem obtaining a beer and wine license. He began the application process in January of this year, allowing for the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control’s required 30-day posting period, during which community members can protest the license.

The 30-day window passed without protest, but as the ABC approval process dragged on, Singh began to suspect his application would be denied. He pleaded his case to Mayor Mary Goloff and Chico Police Chief Kirk Trostle in an email on April 1, in which he wrote: “We have customers walking out when they notice we do not carry beer and they leave without buying any other merchandise. The competition is already very fierce and making survival very hard for a small business like us.”

Singh also collected about 540 signatures from customers petitioning the city to approve his application.

Since the purchase, Singh has invested nearly $400,000 in the store, borrowing from friends and family and taking out a Small Business Administration loan (approved largely based on the location’s previous alcohol sales).

“I’m very shocked,” said Singh, who opened the store last summer. “If I had known I would go through all of this, I never would have bought a business here in Chico.”

Singh, according to Chico Police Sgt. George Laver, was the first applicant for a liquor license since Trostle, as Laver put it, decided to “draw a line in the sand.” In reaction to the string of alcohol-related student deaths and Chico State’s Call for Community Action released in January, Trostle has stated publicly that the city should stop granting new alcohol licenses entirely.

“[Singh] was the first one to come along after he made that decision,” Laver said. “Had they done this last fall, they probably would have been approved and selling alcohol by now. Their timing was poor and it had absolutely nothing to do with them. It was simply a matter of circumstance.”

Sean Morgan, the only council member to vote in favor of approving Singh’s application, said denying him an alcohol license after approving one in March for BevMo!, a major alcohol retail store, was “hypocritical.”

“This guy came along, having already invested in the business, thinking he would be able to get his beer and wine license the whole time,” Morgan said. “When you turn around and say, ‘You can’t have it because we’re doing a 180 on our policy,’ I don’t think that’s fair to the business owner.”

During the last City Council meeting, Trostle requested the council develop a new policy for licensees, a task assigned to the Internal Affairs Committee.

“Yes, let’s sit down and come up with a policy, but let’s not surprise this new business owner,” Morgan said, adding that he “agreed that we need to give serious consideration to any further alcohol licenses.”

Meanwhile, Singh is considering filing an appeal, but conceded the cost of hiring an attorney may prove prohibitive.