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Trouble Brewing on ‘The Row’ Near USC

Times Staff Writer

“The Row” had a hangover Wednesday.

For the uninitiated, “The Row” is a stretch of 28th Street between Figueroa and Hoover streets where USC’s fraternities and sororities are concentrated. On Tuesday night and into the early hours Wednesday, The Row threw another memorable beer blast as students celebrated a rite of fall, the return to classes.

Beer bottles, some smashed, others half-filled, were everywhere--in gutters, on lawns, rolling around on sidewalks.

“It was just a party for the first day of school and everybody showed up,” said Tony Fluke, 22, a senior who lives in the Sigma Chi house.

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Some community activists don’t see it as quite that benign. They argue that too much alcohol is available around the USC campus. They’re angry that yet another permit to sell beer and wine on the edge of the big campus is clearing bureaucratic hurdles.

What upsets them even more is that the store--a Thrifty Jr.--is practically on The Row, at 29th and Figueroa streets, about 20 feet from the Alpha Epsilon Phi sorority house. On Wednesday, the Community Redevelopment Agency voted 5 to 1 to allow the Thrifty store to sell beer and wine. The public agency has a decision-making role in whether Thrifty gets a permit because CRA is playing a major role in revitalizing the neighborhood.

Voting against the motion was the Rev. Thomas Kilgore Jr., a CRA commissioner and USC adviser on community affairs.

The university took no position on the issue, according to James Dennis, USC’s vice president of student affairs.

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“There is so much access to alcohol in our community that I doubt one more outlet will have a significant impact on our student body,” he said in a telephone interview.

Final approval of the Thrifty license must come from the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Department.

In trying to block the action, a community activist who works at USC, Barbara M. Elwood, testified that “in the last two years, three liquor licenses have been approved in a two-block area” near the USC campus. “Where do you stop?” she asked.

Michael Thomson, a USC graduate and developer who has backed major projects in the campus area, implored board members to block Thrifty from selling beer and wine. “There are major problems in the area . . . substantial abuse of alcohol,” he said.

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CRA Chairman James M. Wood said the decision to give Thrifty a green light was particularly difficult for him. “I see this issue as one of the toughest,” he told the hearing. “I’m a recovering alcoholic.”

Wood said he finally came down in favor of Thrifty when he concluded that alcohol consumption is not the real issue in the USC area. “They will bring it in in trucks or send trucks to get it” if the students want to, he said.

Instead, Wood said, the issue is: “Is it harmful to the community?” He concluded, he said, that it is not, largely because “Thrifty’s standards are higher than a liquor store.”

A visit to the small Thrifty store suggests that the retail chain is confident that it will eventually win on the issue. In a corner is a sign that reads “Cold Beer, Self Service,” over a refrigerated case holding, for now, non-alcoholic beverages. The store’s manager, Bill Berry, said the sign was put up when the store opened last October.

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