By Jeff Mays
HARLEM — A controversial East Harlem liquor store located across the street from a high school didn't get the right permit when it converted the former funeral space into a shop, according to the city's Department of Buildings.
East River Wine and Liquor Discount at 302 Pleasant Ave. at East 116th Street was issued a violation by the Buildings Department earlier this month for operating without the right certificate of occupancy, department officials said.
Buildings Department records show the space was converted from a former funeral home and undertaker office into a liquor store. According to sources, the area is zoned for non-commercial use only, and the funeral home was only allowed to operate by an exception to that rule.
Reached by phone, owner Mimi Fisher of Gramercy Park said she was "not aware" of the Department of Buildings violation.
But the news came as no surprise to opponents of the liquor store who have been trying to shut it down on the grounds that they believe it's too close to the high school. Fisher's husband Shane Doyle was issued multiple violations at a previous liquor store for selling alcohol to minors, and was hit with other problems at a second shuttered store, according to the State Liquor Authority.
"I'm delighted to hear this news because that store doesn't belong there and it never did," said Marina Ortiz, founder of East Harlem Preservation, a neighborhood advocacy group that has been fighting the store, "It is so close to the high school and its not something that impressionable teens need to see."
Locals fear that Doyle, who was originally listed as the manager of East River Wine and Liquor, was using his wife Fisher as a front to get past State Liquor Authority officials.
"Let's be realistic. She's got no background in the industry, he loses a license and next thing we know his wife has an epiphany and wants to own a liquor store and guess who's managing it," State Liquor Authority Chairman Dennis Rosen said during a Dec. 15 meeting.
Locals have also questioned whether the store is in compliance with state rules requiring its entrance to be at least 200 feet from schools and churches. The store is located across the street from the Manhattan Center for Science and Mathematics High School and is a block from Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church.
SLA officials re-measured the distance between the store and the church and school and found no distance between entrances that was closer than 200 feet.
The SLA unanimously granted East River Wine and Liquor a license on the condition that Doyle "stays out of the store." Fisher hired a new manager and told the board she would quit her full-time job as a fashion stylist to focus on the store.