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July 28, 2014

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Fremont Street liquor store sues over new city ordinances

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

People wait as they are searched and their ID checked before entering Fremont Street Experience early Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013, in downtown Las Vegas.

Fremont Street Enforcement - July 2013

Officer I. Williams cards Christopher Stovner, 22, in the Fremont East District on Friday, July 5, 2013. Launch slideshow »

A liquor store that’s been on Fremont Street for more than 20 years is suing the city of Las Vegas in federal court on the grounds that two new city ordinances are unconstitutional.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday by the two companies that operate Souvenir Super Mart in the five-block Fremont Street Experience, asks for an injunction to halt the ordinances.

The complaint argues the city is playing favorites with its “liquor regulatory scheme,” and effectively violating the business’s right to free speech, due process and equal protection.

The complaint alleges the liquor regulations are designed to crack down on package liquor licenses in favor of other booze businesses under the guise that the package liquor contributes to myriad problems downtown.

The new laws prevent new package liquor licenses while adding more restrictions on to current establishments.

The complaint notes the city had to craft an ordinance to allow alcohol to be served at Container Park, which is anchored by a children's playground, despite opposition by law enforcement. It also points out that even though package liquor is allegedly the catalyst for an assortment of downtown ills, grocery stores and pharmacies were given an exception.

These types of businesses are operated by “serious” people with “MBAs,” said Councilman Bob Beers, according to the complaint.

At the meeting, part of the pharmacy exemption appeared directed toward the Las Vegas Club, whose representatives told the council they are hoping to draw CVS to the hotel-casino.

The complaint argues the city is angling to protect gaming interests from competition.

The tougher laws don’t apply to resorts, hotel-casino gift shops or bars, even though they also sell package liquor, as they have tavern licenses, the complaint said.

The complaint notes that Councilman Steve Ross said during a meeting that gaming and tourism are the bread and butter downtown and must be protected when it comes to a battle over problems downtown.

The Souvenir Super Mart is owned by siblings Aliza Elazar-Higuchi and and Eli Elezra.

The siblings’ mother and other family members pooled their life savings to muster $235,000 for the package liquor license for the business, according to the complaint. The changes in how the store is allowed to operate is poised to be devastating to the business, the complaint argues.

The new ordinances came about after debate about too much booze on the Fremont Street Experience, a five-block area stretching east from Main Street to Las Vegas Boulevard, after four applications for new liquor stores came to the city last summer.

The new laws forbid:

• Advertising signage in windows.

• The sale of malt liquor or beer in containers greater than 32 ounces.

• The sale of hard-liquor minis.

• The sale of beer with alcohol content of 11 percent or more.

• Any new stores that sell liquor/wine/beer or coolers.

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