City Beat

Liquor store squeezed out in Sacramento’s new downtown

A drawing shows a planned hotel and residential tower next to the site of a sports arena being built at Downtown Plaza. The development also includes retail, restaurants and a possible rooftop garden.
A drawing shows a planned hotel and residential tower next to the site of a sports arena being built at Downtown Plaza. The development also includes retail, restaurants and a possible rooftop garden. Sacramento Kings

There’s probably not a place in the new downtown for a guy like Jafar Nassar.

Nassar runs a little shop called Jade Liquor on Seventh Street, next to what used to be the Hotel Marshall, the city’s dingiest flophouse. His most expensive bottle of booze runs 22 bucks, and he has an entire shelf of those airplane-style mini bottles. But the store has provided enough to support his family for 20 years.

Then things changed. Half of his clientele moved when the Marshall closed last year. Construction on the new Kings arena started a block away. City crews tore up his street to upgrade the sewers. A bus stop near his front door was moved to accommodate all the work.

Nassar looked out at the commotion last week from behind his counter.

“A military occupation, that’s what I call it,” he said.

City leaders call it something else. Nassar’s landlord plans to turn the old Marshall into a 10-story Hyatt Place hotel. The building next door is selling for $26 million. Condos and restaurants are getting built on K Street, and a high-end hotel with luxury apartments is planned for two blocks away, next to the arena.

And Nassar? He’s made a living selling cheap booze to the residents of a run-down hotel, a poor and often vulnerable group. He used to know people on the City Council but didn’t have a clue until recently who his representative is now.

He’s desperate. On Wednesday, Nassar hung a banner in his window that reads, “Unfair & Wrong Construction by the Kings & City Ruining my Business & Hurting my family.” He said he’s tried to get help from the city and downtown leaders.

“They don’t want to talk to me,” he said. “I know it’s a good thing that’s coming (the arena), but I’m being ignored.”

With all the work downtown, it seemed inevitable that some businesses would take a hit. Michael Doyle, who owns MJ Doyle Jewelers on nearby Merchant Street, said his business is down about 15 percent since the construction started. Michele Porter, owner of G. Rossi Florist, moved her shop from Seventh Street to next to the Sheraton Grand Hotel on J Street to avoid the construction and an expected rent hike.

Nassar hasn’t paid his rent in seven months. He said he used to do $2,000 a day in sales. That’s down to $200. He wants money from the city or the Kings to make things right, but that’s not going to happen.

“It’s not like you can do this massive project (the arena) and the sewer work without there being impacts,” said Councilman Steve Hansen, who represents downtown. “I think the question at the end is, are the benefits worth it?”

Nassar may be a casualty of a changing downtown. He wants to still be in business when the arena opens and K Street is bustling.

But will downtown want him back?

Call The Bee’s Ryan Lillis, (916) 321-1085. Read his City Beat blog at sacbee.com/citybeat.

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