August 25, 2008

Beer, Wine Returning to Toppenish Safeway Shelves

By Philip Ferolito

Safeway in Toppenish is currently getting a facelift that includes a Starbucks, a sandwich bar, Artesian desserts and something else that not everyone is happy about -- a beer and wine section.

Nearly eight years ago, the Safeway store at 711 W. First Ave. voluntarily pulled alcohol from its shelves after the Yakama Nation moved to ban alcohol from its 1.2 million-acre reservation, where Toppenish is located.

The Yakama Treaty of 1855 bars alcohol from the reservation, but alcohol sales became commonplace as non-Indians began acquiring tribal lands in the late 1800s.

Talks of enforcing the ban roughly eight years ago even led to state liquor stores in both Toppenish and Wapato being yanked from the reservation.

But the movement stalled after an opinion from the U.S. Attorney's office defined alcohol sales as legal in two reservation towns -- Toppenish and Wapato -- because they were mostly populated by non-Indians. Elsewhere on the reservation, the ban would probably apply, the opinion said.

Now, with a massive upgrade under way at the Toppenish store comes beer and wine. Crews are currently working on the store's new facade, updated flooring and a wine isle has already been installed.

Safeway spokeswoman Cherie Myers of Bellevue, Wash., said the store decided to return to alcohol sales after evaluating the competition in town.

"Almost everybody sells beer and wine (in town), and it would be foolish for us not to," she said Tuesday. "You need to make sure you are offering everything the customer wants to assure they don't go elsewhere for their groceries."

But proponents of the alcohol ban have a different view.

Jack Fiander, a tribal attorney and former tribal councilman who initially pushed for the ban, said he worries that sales at the store will contribute to more panhandling in town, where it once was a long-standing problem among the homeless.

"I don't think Toppenish Safeway should be revitalizing its liquor license until Toppenish gets a better handle on the number of panhandlers and street people in town," he said. "That whole area from First Street to Safeway, it's like a whole campground for street people."

Tribal member Marlene White -- who is waiting for a decision from the U.S. Attorney's office on the legality of a store and tavern still selling alcohol deep within reservation boundaries in Harrah - - said a letter writing campaign she launched against Safeway's move must have fallen on deaf ears.

"It's a shame," she said. "You don't know if it will make matters worse. You know, Safeway was one of those places that did have a problem with vagrancy."

But the store will have security that will thwart any panhandling and keep the store safe for shoppers, Myers said.

"If that happens, we're certainly in a better position to deal with it, but I don't think that will happen," she added.

The store has always been a responsible retailer and has a good relationship with the community, she said.

"We've been a very good partner in that community," she added. "We wouldn't be able to do this remodel if we weren't supported by our customers."

Fiander even agreed somewhat, saying that Safeway is much more responsible than the numerous reservation taverns that chronically ignored liquor laws by serving underage and intoxicated customers.

Stepped-up enforcement of such laws prompted by the ban led to the closure of most of those establishments.

Despite any debate over alcohol sales, most people will enjoy the store's makeover, Myers said.

"I think they are going to love the look of our store, and it's going to surprise them," she said. "It's going to be so neat."

Phil Ferolito

Yakima Herald-Republic

(c) 2008 Yakima Herald-Republic. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.