Nearly every morning, Chip Herman hoses off pools of urine and human feces from the side of his auto detailing shop on South Cherokee Lane.
No matter how hard he tries, however, the longtime Lodi businessman can't rinse away the root cause of his frustrations: the widespread access to alcohol on the Eastside corridor.
There are roughly 30 places you can buy a drink on Cherokee Lane, from the restaurants and bars to the liquor, grocery and convenience stores.
While Downtown has a few more restaurants and bars, Cherokee Lane leads the city with the highest concentration of corner stores and mini-marts that sell alcohol. There are 14 of them on the corridor, nine from 380 to 900 S. Cherokee Lane.
With that many outlets, Herman says, the commercial district has become a magnet for vandals, drunks and the homeless.
Cleaning it up means taking away the booze first, he said, standing behind his shop, where bottle caps, broken glass and wadded up brown paper bags are strewn on the ground.
"If you take the alcohol away, they wouldn't be hanging around here," said Herman, a slender and chatty man with a neatly trimmed brown goatee.
"You've got nice families walking down this alley and they shouldn't have to see this graffiti … and the guys pissing and defecating back here," he added.
While the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control administers alcohol licenses, the Lodi Planning Commission has the final call on whether an applicant should be approved.
The commission has begun taking a closer look at the applicants, noted Lodi Senior Planner David Morimoto. He could not recall, however, any recent applicants that have been turned down.
And while the city has the final call on applicants, it does not keep a master list of all the alcohol licenses in the city. The state does that.
City leaders, including new Mayor JoAnne Mounce, and those who work or live near Cherokee Lane do want changes. They want closer scrutiny of liquor license applications, and a spruced up avenue that serves as a gateway to the city.
The corridor, now a busy but hardly picturesque collection of motels, gas stations and retail shops, is the first place many see when entering Lodi.
"People get a bad impression - they think the whole town is like that," said Sunil Yadav, owner of the Modern Motor Lodge on South Cherokee, and a member of the Lodi Improvement Committee.
"(The city) did a lot of work, but we need a lot more," he said, referring to the streetlights, road paving and medians added to Cherokee Lane a decade ago.
Yadav said he doesn't think alcohol is at the core of Cherokee Lane's image problem.
Some, on the other hand, feel the alcohol outlets draw in the drunks and the homeless, and keep them there.
Of course, there's alcohol is all parts of the city. Bar fights in the Downtown and drunken driving arrests on Kettleman Lane show its affects aren't limited to one place.
Not as bad as people think
Not everyone shares Chip Herman's image of Cherokee Lane; many, in fact, sing its praises.
"Cherokee Lane isn't as bad as people think it is," said Ernie Hoffman, one of about a dozen retired men who gather at J&D Donuts on South Cherokee each morning for coffee and small talk.
"There are a lot of nice businesses here," added Hoffman, who lives on the west side of the city, but has no problem spending his mornings among friends on Cherokee.
Interspersed among the avenue's liquor shops are a wide array of family friendly places. From the Mexican restaurants to the coffee and ice cream shops, the corridor is full of life.
Young families push their babies in strollers up the street. Drivers rush north and south, stopping to get their cars washed or pick up milk and potatoes on their way home.
If you include the bars and restaurants, Downtown and Kettleman Lane have roughly the same number of places to buy alcohol as Cherokee Lane.
But glancing at a map of the city's alcohol establishments, no other stretch has the same concentration of off-sale alcohol licenses: typically found at mini-marts, liquor stores, and increasingly, gas station convenience stores.
"It used to be a gas station was a gas station," said Lodi Senior Planner David Morimoto, noting that most now sell alcohol as well.
The reason Cherokee Lane has so many liquor shops and corner stores, Morimoto said, is fairly simple: the city grew up around that corridor, and people didn't have the massive new shopping centers they do today.
The background checks are done on those seeking new licenses and those who obtain existing licenses when a store or restaurant changes ownership.
Residents within 500 feet of a business applying for a license are notified by mail. Parks, churches, schools and hospitals within 600 feet are also notified.
Cities, however, and not the state, have the final call on whether to approve an alcohol license application.
In Lodi, the planning commission gives the final OK.
Source: Paul Fuentes, supervising investigator for Stockton
office of the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage
- Lizette Martinez, manager at La Taquiza Mexican restaurant on Cherokee Lane
"It might need a little cleaning up … (but) I feel pretty safe
- Gus Franlich, who gathers at J&D Donuts on Cherokee Lane each morning, and has lived on the Eastside since 1947
"If you don't want to drink it, if you don't want to smoke it,
nobody's forcing you … It's not liquor stores' fault. (Store
owners) want to provide for their families."
- Baljit Kang, manager at Cherokee Mini-Mart on Cherokee Lane
"There's a lot of steps that (liquor license applicants) have to
- Paul Fuentes, supervising investigator for Stockton office of the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, referring to background checks applicants must submit to
"I can't blame a liquor store, because someone is buying
- Sunil Yadav, owner of the Modern Motor Lodge on Cherokee Lane, and a member of the Lodi Improvement Committee
"I've lived on both parts of town, and I definitely see a
difference (in the effects of liquor stores on the
- Angelica Perales, a stay-at-home mom who lives near Cherokee Lane
"People tended to shop more locally," said the planner, who's spent more than 25 years working for the city. "It was before the big chains came in. You didn't drive across town to shop."
"It's not a planned conspiracy," added Lodi City Councilman Larry Hansen. "It's just the way things have evolved."
A new face for Cherokee Lane
A decade from now, city leaders envision a transformed Cherokee Lane.
New, big-name hotels will flank the avenue, next to modern medical and professional offices.
Existing shops will have dressed up storefronts and attractive landscaping. A large "Welcome to Lodi" sign will greet travelers, merging onto Cherokee Lane from Highway 99.
The liquor shops might still be there. But perhaps some of the blight associated with them will be gone, leaders say.
"The city recognizes that we need a revitalization of that area," said Hansen, the city's former police chief, seated at a Downtown coffee shop.
Cherokee Lane sits in the heart of the city's proposed redevelopment district. Such a district would allow the city to pump more property tax revenue back into the neighborhood, both along the avenue and the surrounding residential areas.
Upcoming plans would also allow for taller hotels and offices on the strip. (The city limit would jump from two stories to four). City leaders also want to include Cherokee Lane in the county's Enterprise Zone, which would make businesses eligible for numerous low-cost loans and tax rebates.
Until the plans become a reality, however, it's the job of people like Dale Eubanks to control the avenue.
Doling out citations for drinking alcohol on the street or panhandling is a daily task for Eubanks, a longtime Lodi police officer who patrols Cherokee Lane.
"Quite honestly, I think we have enough liquor stores," Eubanks said.
Lodi Police Chief Jerry Adams noted the department does look at each license application. And while a concentration of any type of store isn't good, Adams said it's the city planners who must decide what the landscape of avenues like Cherokee look like.
"I think that's what the planning laws are all about," he said.
Eubanks noted that Cherokee's liquor stores, plus the avenue's recycling centers and some of its motels, attract beggars and drunks, and keep them coming back. That's not to mention the drug addicts and prostitutes that frequent some of Cherokee's motels.
Officers have conducted prostitution stings on the avenue. They arrest those who are drunk in public, and bring them to jail. They've even got a portfolio with pictures of the city's more than 100 "regular drunks," Eubanks said.
But while the blight and alcohol-related crimes have increased on Cherokee, law enforcement hasn't.
The department's staff size has remained roughly the same since the late 1980s, Eubanks noted.
Despite it's unsavory elements, Cherokee isn't an epicenter of violent crime in Lodi. In fact, you're no more likely to get mugged on the avenue than anywhere else in the city, according to Eubanks.
Most liquor and convenience store owners refrain from selling to visibly drunk customers, he added.
Baljit Kang, manager at Cherokee Mini-Mart, said a regular group of panhandlers collect money on the corner, and then buy alcohol at her store.
She doesn't refuse them service, as long as they're sober, she said.
"If they're drunk here, I don't sell to them," she added.
Despite police and store manager's efforts, Cherokee's image problem persists.
A clean and safe place to live is important for Angelica Perales, a young mother who lives near Cherokee Lane.
Having a bevy of alcohol outlets isn't the landscape she wants to see.
"I think it affects this part of town," said Perales, 20, stopping with her two-year-old daughter, Jade, to talk near Rancho San Miguel grocery store on Cherokee Lane. "I don't know if it's the liquor stores but people come over to this side of town to drink and they stay here."
For some, finding a good deal can trump concerns about a shopping district's image.
Loading a sack of sweet potatoes into her car at the Rancho San Miguel parking lot, Betty Geiszler said she hadn't given much thought to Cherokee Lane's appearance, before driving across town.
"I shop where the sales are," she added.