Illustrations by Wilder Schmaltz

AT A MEETING on February 4th, three police officers and the Office of Neighborhood Involvement's liquor licensing coordinator, Theresa Marchetti, sat behind a row of the usual suspects: tall cans of Joose and Steel Reserve malt beverages.

Police say that 53 percent of the city's arrests and citations for public intoxication occur in Portland's downtown core. In an effort to curb street drinking, the city and police want a downtown ban on the beverages they say street drinkers prefer, including single containers of 12- or 16-ounce beer, boxed wine, and any malt liquor with over 5.57 percent alcohol content. Oregon craft brews would be exempt from the ban.

But downtown convenience store owners say the ban could put them out of work.

"It would be very tough for me," says convenience store owner Doug Peterson, who says alcohol makes up about 10 percent of his sales. "I accept the objective, but it would make stores downtown less competitive than those in the suburbs or across the river."

The plan received tough grilling from about 20 business owners at the February 4 meeting. "I think they're really addressing the symptom rather than the problem," said a female corner-store owner who would not give her name for fear of stirring up trouble.

Street Roots Director Israel Bayer calls the ban a "cosmetic approach" to the problem of alcoholism in Portland.

Marchetti defended the idea, saying the majority of public complaints downtown are for issues associated with alcohol—like public urination, vandalism, and shoplifting. "This is a pretty compelling problem in a pretty concentrated area," says Marchetti.

The current booze ban plan involves asking the central city's 68 bodegas and grocery stores to join an association dubbed "VIBRANT PDX." If not enough stores sign onto VIBRANT's voluntary pledge to stop selling certain types of alcohol, the ban could become mandatory.

Seattle instituted a similar malt liquor ban in its downtown core in 2006, and a Washington State study there showed police calls for drinking in public declined by 33 percent from 2003 to 2008.

Plaid Pantry President Chris Girard, who owns stores in both Portland and Seattle, says the Seattle ban did not significantly affect his sales. "A ban like this only works if everyone gets on board," says Girard.