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East Bay Express: The fate of alcohol at First Fridays

Courtesy of EastBayExpress.com

A few months ago, Kim Nguyen realized she had a problem on her hands — except maybe it wasn't a problem, or at least it was the kind of problem every business owner dreams of having: Saigon Market, the narrow, cluttered convenience store that she runs along with her husband just north of the corner of Telegraph Avenue and 23rd Street, was absolutely overrun with customers. Or rather, it was overrun exactly one night a month: the first Friday, when the art walk and street fair of the same name descends on Uptown Oakland, its center right in front of her little store.

These days, Nguyen said, the tiny market — which sells lotto tickets, soft drinks, fluorescent-colored snack foods, and, notably, a small selection of beer, wine, and malt liquor — brings in about $3,000 each First Friday — which is huge, considering that the vast majority of the store's products retail for only a few dollars, and the space itself has room for fewer than about ten people at a time. A few months ago, the store became so choked with bodies that Nguyen and her husband, fearing safety hazards, had to enlist their son to start acting as something of a bouncer, controlling the flow of people coming into the store. On Friday, February 1, a line stretched out from the tiny store's entrance and snaked down the block like that of a nightclub or trendy restaurant. Around 10:30 p.m., the wait to get into the liquor store was at least fifteen minutes, and the vast majority of exiting customers were clutching tall cans or forty-ounces.

Of course, it's not just Nguyen, and it's not just liquor stores. Of the seven bar owners and managers who were interviewed for this story — representing Camber, Fauna, Flora, The Punchdown, Era Art Bar and Lounge, Kim's Backyard, Telegraph, and Plum Bar — all said First Fridays usually bring in the month's largest single-night traffic, sometimes by leaps and bounds. "It's our biggest day of the month, hands-down," said John McGee of Era. "It's like when the fair comes to town."

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This article was originally published on EastBayExpress.com on Febraury 20, 2013.