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Resident angry at store’s liquor licence

Belvin's Variety on Glebe Road (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

A Glebe Road resident has described the “endless” ordeal he suffered when a grocery shop across the road started selling alcohol.

Rodney Smith claimed that as soon as Belvin’s Variety acquired a liquor licence last November, he began to endure a plethora of negative consequences.

“Two knife fights happened in the store’s doorway, people were tying their dogs and bikes to my gate, there was loud cursing and they put miniature liquor bottles in my mailbox,” Mr Smith said. “Also, my gate was used continuously as a parking bay, 6am to midnight, seven days a week. People would look right at the ‘no parking’ signs on my gate and still do it anyway.”

Mr Smith, a Christian teetotaller, sent more than 14 letters of complaint to the courts over the matter — offering dozens of photographs detailing the problems Belvin’s customers were causing him.

Last month, the store had its liquor licence revoked, while another of its outlets on Happy Valley Road was hit with multiple conditions regarding the sale of alcohol. Belvin’s is appealing the decision, with lawyer Shawn Crockwell claiming opposition had come from very few residents.

Liquor Licence Authority chairman Juan Wolffe lambasted George Swan, the owner of both premises, for illegally selling miniature bottles of spirits to customers.

Mr Wolffe also acknowledged that the sale of alcohol at The Glebe Road outlet had caused undue noise, disruption to traffic flow, trash accumulation and disturbances in the community.

According to the Liquor Licence Act 1974, the alcohol vendor must take responsibility to control all four of these factors.

Antisocial behaviour was also reported at the Happy Valley Road store, which nonetheless had its licence renewed on condition no intoxicating liquor was sold before midday and no single beers or miniatures were sold. The appeal process is under way for both Belvin’s branches.

Mr Smith, a self-employed maintenance worker who has lived on his property for 13 years, promised to continue his objections should the Glebe Road store’s liquor licence be reinstated.

His stance comes despite the angry customers who have shouted threats at him from the street since the store lost its licence. One shopper even intimidated his downstairs tenant, the mother of a young child.

“If Bermudians want to buy alcohol, there are hundreds of other places. You don’t need to sell it in a depressed neighbourhood, hard-pressed by drugs and violent crime,” he said. “I’m against the social ills that have come as a result of it.”

On Monday afternoon, Chief Justice Ian Kawaley presided over Belvin’s appeal in the Supreme Court.

Representing the appellant, Pettingill & Co Ltd lawyer Mr Crockwell called it “unreasonable” to withdraw the Glebe Road store’s liquor licence based on the complaints of one or two residents. He also suggested that others initially opposed to the granting of the licence last year — namely the area’s Progressive Labour Party MP Walter Roban and the Heard Chapel AME Church — did not protest its renewal.

Mr Smith attributed the latter to a health problem the church’s pastor had suffered, which took priority.

While conceding that the local resident’s property had been impacted to some degree, Mr Crockwell called him a “crusader” with a “strong bias”.

“Mr Smith seemed to embrace a very calculated campaign against the store,” he said.

“To have a residence by a public road, there are going to be some inconveniences.”

He also suggested that Mr Swan had put in great effort to reduce antisocial behaviour around both of his stores.

This included installing CCTV cameras, banning troublesome individuals, attending community forums and meeting with both Michael Dunkley in his capacity as Minister of National Security and members of the Bermuda Police Service.

Mr Crockwell also pointed out that the Glebe Road store had amassed 209 signatures of support, and the Happy Valley Road petition had 253 signatures.

He urged Mr Justice Kawaley to allow the former a one-year liquor licence before reassessing the issue, and lifting the conditions on the latter, as they had not helped to disperse people drinking near the premises.

The appeal will resume this Friday morning in Supreme Court.