If you’ve read the “Susan’s is Moving” section on the Susan’s Fine Wine & Spirits website lately, you’d know that on May 3, the local liquor store posted that “After over 15 years in our current location, our landlord decided he’d be better off with a national tenant and our understanding is that AutoZone will occupy the space we’re currently in.”
Later that day, an additional post reassured that “Our new space is slightly larger than our current space, and much, much (!) nicer.”
Or maybe you’ve heard ads on Hutton Broadcasting channels promising that even though Susan’s couldn’t reveal its exciting new location just yet, it planned to announce big things come August. Either way, Susan’s must vacate its current space at 1005 S St. Francis Drive on May 28 when its lease reaches its natural conclusion. It’s been there since December of 2005, and owners say the future of the business is in flux, both due to neighborhood concerns near its proposed new Agua Fría Street HQ and a slow license-transfer process that requires city, state and public input.
“The space is at 632 Agua Fría Street and was previously occupied by the Museum of Encaustic Art,” says Susan’s Frank Bowlin. “Our landlord told us six months ago [the current space] was going to become an AutoZone, so we looked and looked and looked but couldn’t find a suitable space—we were prepared to close our doors for good until the last minute, when our realtor said this other space had opened up.”
The problem? Area residents are balking, according to Bowlin, who says people who live nearby are citing traffic concerns. He detects “an undercurrent of NIMBY.” At one recent meeting with residents, Bowlin says, of the roughly 40 in attendance, almost all had visited Susan’s and said they liked the shop, but none were particularly interested in the business putting down roots in the neighborhood. Even Bowlin agrees that access to parking—which would primarily make use of the tiny, one-way Romero Street—is tricky, though the new parking lot has at least 20 spots.
“That area is zoned for mixed residential and business,” says Nirmala Ganapathy, one of Susan’s owners. “We even got a zoning verification letter from the city telling us a store like ours, package and retail, was permitted in that zone—in fact, it was encouraged. We started down this path, now we’re fairly far down this path and the residents are saying there would be too much traffic, they can’t handle it, we can’t come there.”
As it turns out, moving a liquor store is not such an easy task. Susan’s must first gain permission from the state Regulation and Licensing Department’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Division, which takes public comment into consideration.
“ABC accepts public comments (concerns, suggestions, objections, and support letters) until such time the application is sent to the city for its public hearing,” Regulation and Licensing Department Public Information Officer & Marketing Director Bernice Geiger writes SFR. “The public is again given the opportunity to provide public comment at the public hearing.”
Assuming Susan’s license transferral passes the state level, “there would be a public hearing with the hearing officer,” says city spokesman David Herndon. “It then it goes to governing body on consent calendar.”
Bowlin, meanwhile, says that “This is not a mega get-rich scheme—we price as aggressively as we can to serve the community, we bring in products that are frequently unusual and we also support a lot of New Mexico producers.”
Bowlin and Ganapathy also say that Susan’s paid all of its employees during COVID-19 lockdowns, even when the business was shuttered, and through a special bourbon auction, the store raised over $8,000 for Santa Fe first responders during the early days of the pandemic.
“We haven’t gotten to the point where the city can weigh in,” says Ganapathy. “We’ve applied, but depending on how that goes, we may or may not be able to transfer the license.”
If you’d like to make a public comment, you can do so here.