By Doug Hissom Special to Published Jun 04, 2010 at 1:06 PM

Walgreens' first attempts at getting liquor licenses for its stores in Milwaukee was put on hold this week. Following the local lead of its major competitor, CVS, and Target Department stores among other major chains, Walgreens is looking to sell beer and spirits at its Milwaukee outlets as part of a nationwide effort to get back into the booze business.

Walgreens representatives told the Milwaukee Licenses Committee this week that it has plans for all of its 30-some stores in the city to be able to sell liquor, beer and wine. The committee considered two stores for licenses this week and was told at least 10 applications would be coming soon.

Walgreens officials told the committee it was to help make Walgreens a one-stop shopping destination, since the pharmacy already sells food and other home sundries beyond pills, cough remedies and the traditional pharmaceutical stock.

First up was the store at 6030 W. Oklahoma Ave., which was met by luke-warm support from Ald. Joe Dudzik. He told his colleagues that although no neighbors showed up to complain about the store selling booze, he personally objected to more outlets in his district.

"We have far too many locations now," he said. "I believe at some point in time my district will come to the conclusion that we have too much liquor here."

Dudzik quipped that if Walgreens got a liquor license, maybe liquor stores would want to become pharmacies.

Walgreens reps gave the committee a letter from corporate offices stating the pharmacies would only sell beer and wine for four years and then ask for a full liquor license. A Walgreens lawyer said the company would then review asking for liquor sales every two years after that. The attorney said Milwaukee was "one of the most, if not the most, difficult places to license in."

Committee members agreed that the letter is not a legally binding contract, even though Walgreens claimed it was, and wanted further advice from the city attorney's office before actingon the licenses. The second request was for a store at 6292 S. 27th St.

Walgreens rolled out its liquor-selling strategy last year, and has run into strong opposition in many cities. Some of that stems from an anti-liquor store attitude, but in the case of one Chicago neighborhood, opponents accused Walgreens of being a bad operator when it used to have liquor sales. Walgreens stores mainly in the southwest sold liquor until the 1980s. CVS pharmacies in the Milwaukee area have also started to get liquor licenses.

Turf fight: Congeniality wasn't on the front burner at one point during last week's Milwaukee Common Council meeting.

Ald. Milele Coggs expressed her displeasure after Ald. Bob Donovan earlier had pushed through an effort to take $20,000 in federal block grant aid from a community development effort in her district and give it to a public safety group in his district. Coggs said she was never informed by Donovan that he was going to do that.

The Council's Community Development Committee earlier approved the raid after city block grant chief Steve Mahan told them the mayor was not opposed and that Coggs had ben informed.

"We cannot allow a cannibalization of resources from our districts without so much as a phone call, an e-mail or a stop in the halls," she told her colleagues on the floor of the Council meeting, expressing concern that this would be some sort of precedent.

Donovan tried to defend himself by saying that Mahan told him he would talk to Coggs about it for Donovan, but that never happened.

"I thought to myself we ought to be allocating federal money for memory retention classes for Mr. Mahan, " Donovan responded. "Or some plastic surgery so he doesn't talk out of both sides of his mouth."

That prompted a rebuke from Common Council President Willie Hines that Donovan was getting too personal in his attack.

Coggs' effort to rescind the raid failed by one vote. The $20,000 went to the Southside Organizing Committee's Operation Impact in Donovan's district while the money came from a Bronzeville redevlopment effort which reduced the project's funding from $297,584 to $272,584.

Pawn stars on hold:
The quests for gold has Milwaukee aldermen taking a closer look at jewelry and precious metal resale stores in the city and they are scrutinizing store licenses more thoroughly than ever. Dealers who come before the committee to renew their licenses usually face police reports detailing the fact that store owners are not documenting their purchases well enough to prove they are not accepting stolen goods.

And the number of requests for new licenses is becoming burdensome. So Ald. Terry Witkowski is leading an effort to place a moratorium on new licenses for "cash-for-gold" stores until the city can come up with a better way to regulate the burgeoning industry. Gold prices approaching $1,200 an ounce is no doubt fueling the boon.

Witkowski says problem situation started getting serious late year, when Milwaukee police seized about 1,200 pieces of jewelry valued at over $75,000 that four south side stores bought without following proper procedures. The police issued 85 citations totaling more than $41,000 to the four stores. All four stores surrendered their dealer licenses in January.

"I strongly believe that the proliferation of these cash-for-gold businesses is a serious threat to the health, safety, and welfare of our residents and neighborhoods," Witkowski said. He added that the stores encourage burglaries and thefts by get cash fast schemers.

One of Witkowskii's ideas is to keep gold stores from settling in one area, since the aldermen says it creates "a deleterious affect on the surrounding neighborhood."

Birthday bang: Birthday drinks can be a dangerous thing. When a patron couldn't get a free drink for his girlfriend after claiming it was her birthday, the patron left and came back to what was then Fitzgerald's bar, 2001 N. 30th St., and proceeded to fire six shots into the bar. No one was hurt, but it was one of many incidents at Fitzgerald's last year that gave Licenses Committee members pause over renewing a tavern license for the location under a new name, Swag Lounge.

Many other shooting incidents were also reported about Fitzgerald's, as well as several raids by liquor inspectors that repeatedly found illegally purchased liquor at the place. Apparently not a good track record to re-open a tavern.

The committee voted to hold license approval indefinitely.

Crime time: Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn can stand tall in reporting that nearly every category of crime in our fair city has gone down compared to last year. Perhaps reflecting the unrobust economy, burglary was the only category to see an increase, a 4.3% hike from last year's first quarter with 1,190 incidents reported this year compared to 1,141 in 2009.

Overall crime, including violent crime, was down 9.1% and property crimes were down 7.9%, with the biggest decrease coming in auto thefts, 23.5% (819 in 2010, 1,071 in 2009). Theft was down 7.2% (4,677 in 2010, 5,040 in 2009) and arson was down 15.1% (45in 2010, 53 in 2009).

Numbers for headline-grabbing violent crimes in 2010 include: homicide, with 17 (a 10.5% drop); rape (a 32.8% drop from 61 in 2009 to 41 in 2010); robbery (a 19.7% drop from 623 in 2009 to 500 this year); and aggravated assault (a 10.7% drop from 673 in 2009 to 601 this year).

Doug Hissom Special to
Doug Hissom has covered local and state politics for 20 years. Over the course of that time he was publisher, editor, news editor, managing editor and senior writer at the Shepherd Express weekly paper in Milwaukee. He also covered education and environmental issues extensively. He ran the UWM Post in the mid-1980s, winning a Society of Professional Journalists award as best non-daily college newspaper.

An avid outdoors person he regularly takes extended paddling trips in the wilderness, preferring the hinterlands of northern Canada and Alaska. After a bet with a bunch of sailors, he paddled across Lake Michigan in a canoe.

He lives in Bay View.