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The owner of the Gas Depot said Tuesday that he will stop selling alcohol at the familiar quick shop across from the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology campus by the end of December.

With South Dakota Mines officials complaining about the behavior of intoxicated people attracted by the Gas Depot and with the Rapid City Council set to consider revoking its malt-beverage license, owner Mark Schwartz wants to end his role in the controversy by ending alcohol sales at the store.

“We’re taking it all out at the end of December,” he said. “I happen to believe our store is not the problem. The problem is bigger than that. But they want to blame our store, and I don’t want to be put in that situation. I don’t want them to be put in that situation, either. I hope I’m being a good citizen.”

The Gas Depot, on Birch Avenue across St. Joseph Street from the northwest corner of the Mines campus, has long been a popular place for students to buy gas, snacks and drinks. But it also attracts other customers, some of whom overindulge on alcohol and create problems for Mines students and staff, Mines officials told members of the city council.

Aldermen voted 10-0 Monday to set the legally required public hearing to revoke the malt beverage license held by the Gas Depot at a date to be determined.

Schwartz said he felt outnumbered at the city council meeting and came away determined not to be seen as the problem or to be in conflict with Mines officials. He initially withdrew a request to continue the sale of hard liquor, but Tuesday clarified that he would end beer sales as well.

“If that’s what they believe is in the best interest, I will remove it voluntarily,” he said, adding that he had great admiration for the School of Mines. “But I don’t believe it’s going to fix the problem. I think the problem will just go six blocks down the road and buy what they want.”

Schwartz, the president of Fresh Start Convenience Stores, which owns Gas Depot, said that once it ends alcohol sales, it will be interesting to see if the problem ends. It will also be interesting, and worrisome, to see if the Gas Depot can make it financially without selling alcoholic beverages, he said.

“We may not even be able to stay open,” he said. “It would be a shame if it closes. That’s been a convenient little store for a lot of people, a big chunk of them coming from Mines.”

Police Chief Steve Allender said as long as the store has a malt beverage license – and can sell inexpensive, high-alcohol 40-ounce beers – problems with public intoxication will continue in the area. Prairie Market and the downtown Family Thrift Center agreed to stop selling 40-ounce beers a couple of years ago after being approached by police about the problems those beverages cause.

Customers at the Gas Depot late Tuesday afternoon praised the store for being convenient and relatively inexpensive as a gas stop.

Evan Seid, a tire technician from Rapid City, has been buying gas at the Gas Depot for 12 years. He said he would miss the store if it closed.

“The alcohol I wouldn’t miss. But the gas prices I like,” he said.

Seid said he has been asked for money by intoxicated people while at the store a few times, but never in a threatening way.

“It’s happened a couple of times,” he said. “But it happens in other places, too. It’s kind of the downtown area.”

Mines student Alex Roeber said he stopped regularly at the Gas Depot for gas and something to eat and didn’t feel threatened by its location or occasional intoxicated patron.

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“I like it because it’s a close place to get food and the gas is cheap,” he said.

Another Mines student, Taylor Ballert, said he liked the convenience of the Gas Depot and hadn’t experienced problems with intoxicated people.

“I get gas here once a week, and I have yet to see it,” he said.

Cheryl Dillon, a Mines employee at the Surbeck Center across from the Gas Depot, was filling her tank when asked about problems with intoxicated people.

“That’s why I don’t come here very often,” she said.

But she also said the problem is bigger than the Gas Depot and its alcohol sales.

“I don’t know if it’s the store, so much, or the whole area,” she said. “If somebody wants to drink, they’ll find a way to drink.”

Contact Kevin Woster at 394-8413 or kevin.woster@rapidcityjournal.com

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