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Liquor store reopening divides North Oakland neighborhood

on October 7, 2009

Ashrious Pannell opened NicNak Liquors in 1969 and ran it until a debilitating heart failure in 2004 forced him to temporarily shutter the store at the corner of Shattuck and Alcatraz. Now, his health is improved, and Pannell would like to reopen NicNak.

But things changed in his five years away, and 40 years after NicNak sold its first bottle of booze, Pannell is fighting to keep his store a liquor store.

Tonight, Pannell and his supporters bring that struggle to City Hall to ask for a “major conditional use permit and variances” that would exempt NicNak from a city law and allow him to return to business as usual. Many nearby residents want to make sure he doesn’t.

These two warring factions of the North Oakland community will present their sides tonight to the Planning Commission, which after a public hearing will decide the fate of NicNak.

Pannell’s problem is a city law passed in the 1970s that states no new liquor store may open within 1,000 feet of another. T & K Market, which sells alcohol, is directly across the street from NicNak. Both were there long before the law was passed and therefore were allowed to continue to operate.

But after NicNak was closed longer than 90 days, it could no longer claim an exemption, and was subject to the same permit process as a new store. Pannell reopened the business this spring and gave it a new name—JoJo’s Market. But the old NicNak sign still stood in the parking lot out front. And he started selling alcohol again.

That’s when his detractors emerged.

They emailed and called the city—filling the zoning manager’s email inbox with hundreds of messages and his voicemail box to capacity—saying no to NicNak’s reopening as a liquor store. Not only would reopening NicNak violate city law, they said, it would increase area crime. And legally, the city has no right to grant a variance, they said, and the precedent is dangerous.

Pannell’s supporters also contacted the city and spoke at an August Planning Commission meeting, calling him a pillar of the community. They asked the city to let a small businessman continue to operate as he had before his health problems. The store has never attracted crime or been a nuisance to the area, they said.

“I have never been called one time for any incident,” Pannell said in a phone interview cut short when his lawyer called and advised him not to speak to the press. “I have an impeccable record. I’ve had no problem.”

But Jeff Jensen, chair of the East Lorin Neighborhood Association, said NicNak’s neighbors complain of urine, vomit and feces in their front yards as well as empty bottles and other litter. Allowing NicNak to sell alcohol would only add to these problems, he said.

“For most residents it’s simply a quality of life issue,” Jensen said.

Jensen said that area liquor stores are strongly connected to crimes including loitering, public drunkenness, vandalism, youth drinking, and even murder.

“We’re just trying to turn around the over-saturation of liquor stores in the North Oakland/South Berkeley area,” Jensen said.

Jensen said a variance would set a legal precedent for all of Oakland, allowing other new liquor stores to argue for variances on the basis of that decision, and allowing their attendant problems to proliferate throughout the city.

But according to Pannell’s attorney, Clinton Killian, NicNak’s case is legally sound. The only requirement for a major conditional use permit and variance that Pannell does not meet is the 1,000-foot law, Killian said. Killian said T & K is a smaller store that sells mostly dry goods, with only a partial liquor license. So NicNak, with a full liquor license, would be offering something different.

Echoing Pannell’s statement, Killian said that in its long history, NicNak has never proved to be a nuisance—a record that should speak for itself.

“The reality of it is, in 35 years there’s never been any type of deleterious actions,” Killian said. “There’s no loitering, there’s no crime, there’s no public drunkenness. There’s no evidence that this store has any negative impact on the area.”

Pannell plans to expand NicNak with fresh fruit and store-prepared food, Killian added.

At its August meeting the Planning Commission considered a staff recommendation to deny the permit and variance. Following a public hearing, the commission voted 4-1 to ask city staff to draft findings to approve, which will be considered tonight.

Both Jensen and Killian, and city zoning manager Scott Miller, implied in interviews that a decision tonight might result in appeals to the City Council, and possible litigation.

The Oakland Planning Commission meets at 6 p.m. tonight at City Hall in Hearing Room 1.


  1. G on October 7, 2009 at 7:08 pm

    City council, say NO.

    No more liquor stores. No more corner grocery marts.

    No more thugs, no more criminals.

    Pannell can find a new business.

  2. Max Allstadt on October 7, 2009 at 8:33 pm

    Speaking for “everything that’s wrong with Oakland”,

    I completely agree, G.

  3. zachary slater on October 14, 2009 at 9:48 pm

    The only people that are complaining are yuppies that havent lived in this neighborhood for more than 5 years. If you really cared about the well being of people in the neighborhood you would go and clean up MLK park or go volunteer at san kofa. But you would rather shut down a guy whos had his store in this neighborhood for 40 years. Lets get to the real reason why you people are making such a fuss about another liquor store, and thats diminishing property value plain and simple.

  4. We Fight Blight on October 16, 2009 at 11:17 pm


    How long have you lived in North Oakland or the East Lorin Neighborhood? Yuppies? Who are Yuppies under your definition? This is a quality of life issue. Maybe after you have someone defecate in your yard, vomit on your front steps, break into your car for spare change for a 40 ouncer, get into a fight on your street corner, pass out on your neighbors lawn, or toss their liquor bottles and fast food at the stop sign can you begin to understand the problems with corner liquor stores. Visit and then you can really understand how the “corner liquor store” is the vampire of the community. Tell me, are you volunteering at San Kofa or the MLK Park? What are you doing to help the health of your community other than advocating for 40 ouncers, malt liquor, fortified wines, swishers and processed food. Get real. The pathetic paint brush you use to portray people concerned about safety and security as yuppies is not only sad, but totally uninformed. Mr. Pannell does not live in North Oakland, he lives in Trestle Glen and has a second home in Clear Lake.

  5. CLAUDIA on October 17, 2009 at 12:39 am

    I read that blog what about the daughter does she lives in North Oakland? She is the one who is the manager? Ok flight blight what does the second home in Clearlake has to do with anything? Ok he lives in trestle glen, owns a house on 55th, 2 on Adeline and one on MLK. SO WHAT! Sounds like your just ENVIOUS towards the man and family. Is it a crime to have a vacation home in Clearlake?

  6. Watchful and Diligent on November 1, 2009 at 9:07 pm

    The Pannells are under the impression the neighborhood STILL operates as it did 10 years ago. (BTW, git your story straight, they’ve been closed for 10 years, not 5.) The demographics have changed dramatically and guess what? Middle class folks follow rules and legislation.

    THIS is where the rub lies.

    Mr. Pannell thinks he still runs the show in N. Oakland. At one time he WAS Da Mayor, but he has been gone for too long and the neighborhood now follows the rules, AS DICTATED BY THE CITY.

    Oh, and about those health issues: Mr. P, himself, told me he is too sick for the doctors to operate.

    Why would an obviously sick man seek to reinstate a lapsed license?

    To sell, of course!

    The property is worth $100K more with that license.

    So before you commend them for being pillars of the community. Consider the FACT that they plan to sell their liquor at lower than market prices.

    Why is this an issue?

    It is a predatory practice to destroy other existing businesses (Lees Market, etc) AND it places hard liquor in closer reach to the economically disadvantaged.

    If you were living in our neighborhood, would you really want those in a bad situation to be ‘granted’ access to cheap liquor (not to mention a depressant)? Probably not.

    We need a little tough love here!

    Those of us middle class folks, the Pannells call ‘outsiders’, moved here did so because we love the neighborhood. We saw the diversity in race and economics as a plus. Our neighborhood is REAL! We cover all the bases, demographics, lifestyles, and viewpoints.

    We will continue to do so. We will love our neighbors. Therefore, we’ll make sure they are safe and secure, no matter what their race or economic status.

    Unlike the Pannells who willingly choose to be supported by a racist organization and a lawyer with a questionable record, we oppose the LIQUOR LICENSE due to the fact that we’ve been raised to follow the rules. NO LIQUOR LICENSE WITHIN 1000FT IS A PRETTY CLEAR RULE! Is it Not?

    Is it NOT?

  7. We Fight Blight on January 15, 2010 at 8:44 am

    Hi Claudia,

    The point that is being made is that Mr. Pannell professes to be a pillar of the North Oakland Community, yet he does not live in the community and has not operated a liquor store there for more than five years. The community doesn’t want his liquor store, we already have way too many. Those who oppose his liquor store would be more than happy to consider a higher density mixed use development at the site that does not involve the sale of liquor.

  8. […] at 6400 Shattuck Ave reopens March 16, when the City Council takes up the question. Last October, Oakland North reported on the background behind this contentious […]

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