Possible bar in Kroger stirs controversy with Athens residents and officials

When Kroger applied for a new liquor license with the Ohio Division of Liquor Control in December, the request went through Athens City Council in January without discussion.

Nearly two months later, Council President Chris Knisely said council members have received complaints from constituents regarding the grocery store on 919 E. State St.

“We’re definitely concerned about it,” Knisely said.

Kroger officials requested a D5 and a D6 license so that grocery employees at their East State Street Location could give out more servings during its wine tastings.

Matt Mullins, a spokesman for the Ohio Division of Liquor Control, previously told The Post the D5 license would give Kroger “full liquor sales privileges Monday through Saturday, 2:30 a.m.,” while the D6 license would allow the grocery store to serve and sell on Sundays.

D5 licenses are common among bars and restaurants that serve alcohol. Athens’ Kroger currently has a D8 license, which allows store employees to give patrons samples for tasting only.

Kroger spokeswoman Jennifer Jarrell said in a previous Post report that though a bar wasn’t in the immediate sights for the grocery store, it was a possibility for the future.

“We don’t have any immediate plans to put in a bar,” Jarrell said. “But we’re thinking ahead to the future.”

Knisely said that is where councilmembers’, as well as community members’, concerns lie.

“We’re concerned that people will be drinking and shopping,” Knisely said. “If council knew, it would have been more of a problem.”

Knisely said many of the letters councilmembers had received said people were concerned that a bar might change the atmosphere of the grocery store.

Kirk Groeneveld, an Athens resident, said he’s concerned about the store operating in a more bar-like environment.

“I don’t mind if Kroger sells wine,” Groeneveld said in an email. “I don’t mind if they want to sell larger portions. I don’t mind if there are tasting events. But I don’t understand why they would want to install or operate ‘a bar’ in the store.”

Pointing to the recent closure of the Wildwood Bar, Groeneveld said he doubted people would go to Kroger for a night at the bar.

Other residents took a different view at the prospect of Kroger having a bar.

“Can’t see where another bar is going to make any difference,” Ann Dombroski said. “Athens already has more than it needs, what difference would another one make?”

Dombroski joked that Athens’ reputation of being oversaturated with liquor licenses must be the result of a drought of non-alcoholic beverages.

“Apparently, the citizens of Athens must be turning to the bars because of a lack of water or other beverages. Must be some kind of a drought going on,” Dombroski said. “Perhaps City Council should be aware of this crisis and pass legislation that there be a bar on every block to make sure there are adequate liquids for all its citizens who must be suffering from dehydration.”

Knisely said council would be monitoring the situation closely, though members “can’t formally respond at this point.”

Councilwoman Michele Papai, D-3rd Ward, said she had contacted Kroger representatives about the possible bar.

“I spoke with corporate … and again they are reassuring us that there are no plans for a bar,” Papai said in an email.

Jarrell confirmed  the company currently doesn’t have plans to remodel the store.

“The sole purpose Kroger is seeking the license at this time is to allow customers to try a glass of wine prior to making a purchase,” Jarrell said in an email. “We only have plans to serve wine, and have the ability to limit customer consumption to only the wine-tasting area.”

Bar or no, Athens residents don’t look too kindly on the prospect of an additional liquor vendor finding a home in their city.

“Sure we need more bars just as much as we need more deer and snow,” Dombroski said.





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