Wheatsville Co-op granted waiver to sell alcohol at new location


Chelsea Purgahn

Wheatsville Co-op will be selling beer and wine at its new S. Lamar Boulevard location, opening in June. Though there was opposition from the Austin Independent School District for selling alcohol within 300 feet of Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders, the City Council voted unanimously in favor of the alcohol sales waiver. 

Hannah Jane DeCiutiis

Residents in South Austin will no longer need to trek north to purchase the specialty beers and wines offered by Wheatsville Food Co-op, thanks to a waiver granted by the city council last month.

The Austin-based cooperative grocery store will be opening its South Lamar Boulevard location in June. The store will be less than a block away from the Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders, a public all-girls school within the Austin Independent School District (AISD). Because of a city code that bans alcohol sales within 300 feet of a public school, Wheatsville had to apply for a waiver. The council voted unanimously in favor of Wheatsville’s waiver at the Dec. 13 meeting.

Wheatsville currently sells beer and wine at its Guadalupe location north of the University of Texas.

Representatives of Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole’s office said the council was particularly impressed by Wheatsville’s clean track record with the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, especially operating so closely to a university where underage college students live.

“I’m extremely happy that my colleagues unanimously supported Wheatsville Co-op in the building of [its] new location,” Cole said.

The council received several letters of support for Wheatsville from various community organizations such as the South Lamar Neighborhood Association, as well as other cooperative organizations. Raquel Dadomo, brand manager for Wheatsville, said the alcohol products Wheatsville sells are typically higher-end, which was an additional factor in the approval of the waiver.

“I think [the code] is mostly for convenience stores that mostly sell low-price beer and wine,” Dadomo said. “Our selection is a much higher price point and is located way, way in the back. You have to look for it.”

The AISD submitted a letter of opposition to city council on Nov. 30, citing a “belief that alcohol sales near schools is not generally conducive to a positive and safe learning environment.”

Beth Wilson, AISD assistant director of planning services and the letter’s author, said it is AISD’s blanket policy to oppose alcohol sales within 300 feet of its schools.

“Routinely with any alcohol sales application, whether for on-site or off-site consumption within 300 feet of a school, we will always submit a letter of opposition,” Wilson said. “We don’t think it’s beneficial to the environment of our schools to have alcohol sales in such close proximity. It is our policy to always oppose.”

The cooperative model allows patrons to invest in the grocery store and therefore become member owners who work together as a community to operate the store while sometimes receiving profit. These member owners can have a voice in operations, including Wheatsville’s vendor choices. Dadomo said the grocery store’s cooperative nature will have a positive impact on families and students at the Ann Richards School.

“As a co-op, we’re really looking forward to working with the Ann Richards School,” Dadomo said. “It feels awfully strange for us to be in a position where we would be on the opposite side of the school because we add so much more to the neighborhood as a co-op.”

Dadomo said members of Wheatsville Co-op are looking forward to getting to know the South Austin community and setting a positive example for the young women attending the Ann Richards School.

“Right now 50 percent of our management staff is women, and that’s unheard of in the grocery business,” Dadomo said. “We’re women, we’re mothers, even our deli manager is the mom of students at the Ann Richards School. I think we have a lot of things in common, but I think it was an unfortunate thing that put us on opposing sides.”

Published on January 14, 2013 as "Wheatsville Co-op granted alcohol waiver".