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Miami Beach Is Trying to Bankrupt Liquor Stores, Lawsuit Claims

Miami Beach Is Trying to Bankrupt Liquor Stores, Lawsuit Claims
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For six years, Ocean 9 Liquor has sold beer, wine, and spirits from its Collins Avenue store, which boasts free delivery and an onsite DJ. That all changed on a Friday last month, a new lawsuit claims, after code enforcement showed up with police and threatened to take store operator Doron Doar to jail if he didn't immediately shut the whole thing down — all because of a dispute over a $1,000 business tax receipt. 

But Doar says the tax receipt was just an excuse. In a lawsuit, he says the city violated state and federal laws as part of "Mayor [Philip] Levine's overzealous campaign" to crack down on alcohol in South Beach. 

Doar's lawsuit is the latest spat in an ongoing battle over the identity of Miami Beach's entertainment district, the tourist-heavy, hard-partying area anchored by iconic Ocean Drive. Gubernatorial hopeful Levine and some city commissioners have pointed to alcohol as the culprit behind an alleged increase in crime and have made it their mission to crack down.

But the suit alleges city officials have gone too far.

"Unfortunately, what started as a legislatively legitimate attempt to control crime... has resulted in an intentional, malicious, and now illegal campaign against certain specific establishments that sell liquor," reads the complaint by attorney Phillip M. Hudson, which names the city and its commissioners as defendants.

City spokesperson Melissa Berthier said she could not comment on pending litigation.

Miami Beach's efforts to clean up the entertainment district began in 2016, when Levine started pushing for alcohol sales on Ocean Drive to end at 2 a.m. instead of 5 a.m. Commissioners also targeted liquor stores (AKA package stores), claiming they encourage drinking in city parks and streets. The commission first prohibited the opening of new liquor stores in the district, allowing the four in existence — including two operated by Doar, Ocean 9 Liquor and Ocean 11 Market — to remain unaffected.

But then commissioners began scaling back the hours stores could sell alcohol. The allowable hours would ultimately change three times over six months, from the original 8 a.m. to midnight to 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. (An ordinance under consideration would adjust the hours a fourth time, permitting liquor stores to sell alcohol only between the hours of 10 a.m. and 8 p.m.)

Those changes, the lawsuit alleges, are part of "a series of overreaching, unreasonable ordinances designed to bankrupt the four package stores by systematically reducing their legal hours of sale."

Ocean 9 Liquor, located at 865 Collins Ave., a block from Ocean Drive, found itself in the city's crosshairs in June after a code compliance officer cited the business for failing to obtain a business tax receipt. Doar appealed, and the case went to a special master, who agreed Doar could resolve the matter by paying $1,000. The city took the $1,000 but refused to accept payment to renew the business tax receipt, the lawsuit claims.

On October 6, a code compliance officer issued a notice of violation to Ocean 9 for failing to obtain the business tax receipt. That day, the officer and two cops coerced Doar into closing down by threatening him with immediate imprisonment, the suit says.

Since then, the city has refused to allow him to obtain a new business tax receipt, citing the 2016 ban on new package stores in the entertainment district. The lawsuit alleges the city's actions were designed to spring "a trap" on the entertainment district's liquor stores.

"One store down," the lawsuit says, "three to go."

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