by David Noriega
The pastors and parishioners of two storefront churches in Corona are outraged that a liquor store opened directly in between them this month.
Bao Liquors set up shop about two weeks ago on Northern Boulevard and 97th Street, and is flanked by Iglesia Biblica Cristiana on one side and Iglesia Cristiana Levantando Hombres de Valor on the other. The churches are upset that state authorities allowed Bao to open despite a law that prevents liquor stores from operating within 200 feet of a church.
Corona’s large immigrant population is particularly vulnerable to alcoholism, said Roberto Amoros, the pastor at Iglesia Biblica Cristiana. They have trouble finding work, supporting their families and adjusting to life in a foreign land.
“They fall into depression, and they try to drown their sorrows in liquor,” Amoros, 48, said in Spanish.
Iglesia Biblica Cristiana has some 12 members who have overcome alcohol problems with help from the church, Amoros said. Having a liquor store nearby will not help.
“When these people come to church and see a liquor store next door, there is a high chance they will feel a temptation of the flesh,” Amoros said. “The flesh is weak.”
Andres Carrillo, 29, a parishioner at Levantando Hombres de Valor, said problems with alcohol had caused him to separate from the mother of his young daughter. He slowed down his drinking about six months ago with help from the church.
Carrillo works in a restaurant in Manhattan, so the liquor store will not be the worst temptation he regularly encounters. But he said the store might make things more difficult for other churchgoers with similar histories.
“These are things of the world,” Carrillo said in Spanish. “There are a lot of bad things that you can’t avoid.”
To qualify under the 200-foot rule, a building must be “occupied exclusively” by a church, according to state law. Both Iglesia Biblica Cristiana and Levantando Hombres de Valor are storefront operations with apartments on their upper floors.
The State Liquor Authority denied Bao’s license application anyway in June, on the grounds that it did not provide “public convenience and advantage” to the community, according to an official denial letter provided by an agency spokesman. The letter specifically cites the store’s proximity to the churches, as well as “considerable opposition” from the community. But Bao filed suit against the Liquor Authority in state Supreme Court earlier this month, and the court gave Bao the green light to open as the lawsuit proceeds.
City Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst) has pressed the SLA to prevent Bao Liquors from operating in its current location, according to Ivettelis Rodriguez, Ferreras’s district office director. But the Supreme Court’s decision means the SLA will not be able to take any action against Bao until the lawsuit is over.
The next court date is set for Oct. 24.
Bao Xing Zheng, the liquor store’s owner, could not be immediately reached for comment.
Local officials have long considered alcohol a problem in Corona, as well as in neighboring Elmhurst, East Elmhurst and Jackson Heights. State Assemblyman Francisco Moya (D-Jackson Heights) recently introduced legislation to extend the time a community board has to comment on a liquor license application. The bill passed the Assembly, but has not passed the state Senate.
“We have more liquor licenses being issued here than in downtown Manhattan,” Moya said at the Sept. 20 Community Board 3 meeting. “We care about this communit — we are not going to allow that to happen.”
For now, the churches can only express their dismay.
“It isn’t right. I emphatically reject the court’s decision,” said Augusto Salazar, the pastor at Levantando Hombres de Valor, speaking in Spanish after a recent Sunday service.
In addition to making life difficult for churchgoers hoping to overcoming problems with alcoholism, parishioners are also concerned that the store will attract dissolute characters to the block.
Parishioner Hellen Rivera frequently sees drunken men harassing passersby in neighborhood parks.
“Now we won’t only have them in the park, but also next to the church, buying liquor,” Rivera, 42, said in Spanish. “It brings disorder.”