City appears to be on its way to alcohol license deal with state
By CHRIS HARRIS, CJ Staff Writer Commonwealth Journal
It’s said that loose lips sink ships. Sometimes, those “ships” may take the form of agreements between government agencies.
As the City of Somerset works toward its goal of expanding access to retail liquor licenses for applicants, Mayor Eddie Girdler is saying little about how the process is going.
Still, Girdler’s use of the word “positive” has to be encouraging for those business owners still awaiting their already-approved liquor licenses — and those who would like to join the fray.
“We’re in very positive discussions with the state ABC offices,” said Girdler. “So far, it’s been a very cooperative effort between the city and state ABC. They are working with us to mutually resolve the issues.”
In January, it was revealed that the Kentucky ABC (Alcoholic Beverage Control) Office had selected five businesses to fill the allotted quota Retail Liquor Package licenses for stores to sell distilled spirits and wine (as opposed to beer, which is already sold at an unlimited number of local retailers).
Among them were two national drug store chains — Rite-Aid and Walgreens — and three smaller-scale businesses: Apple’s Wine and Spirits, First Stop Party Supply and Package Store, and Wildcat Beer, Wine, and Spirits.
Passed up was Liquor World, a high-volume liquor retailer with stores in Richmond and Manchester, which had plans to invest $5 million in a renovation of the North Plaza shopping center, which would also likely include a national chain restaurant.
It was that kind of economic investment that Girdler was hoping for and believed that the state would grant the city — but it didn’t happen. Girdler’s response was to both send a letter to the Kentucky ABC requesting that they work out a deal to allow Somerset more than the five liquor store licenses the state allotted.
The city also filed a complaint in Pulaski Circuit Court against the state ABC and Tony Dehner in his official capacity as acting commission and distilled spirits administrator, arguing against the quota of five licenses set by the state.
Girdler has said that he’d ideally like to see between two to four more applicants be given liquor licenses, as the Somerset regional economy could likely support more than five such retailers.
As for the current state of the legal action taken by the city — though the first preference was to work out an agreement with the state directly rather than go through the courts, Girdler declined to comment.
All Girdler would add is that “with the cooperation of the ABC and their new commission that we will be able to work out an acceptable arrangement with both parties within a very short period of time, probably the next 30 days.”
He also said that the city has “been encouraging all applicants to bear with us as we go through this process” and that “we have to work through this process to be fair to all parties.”
The city declined to issue its ABC licenses to those the state approved until the issue could be resolved, with one exception — Wildcat Beer, Wine and Spirits. Girdler said that they more closely met the standards that the city was looking for in terms of economic impact.
The Commonwealth Journal tried to contact the owners unsuccessfully on Monday, but the business does have a website, wildcatspiritsky.com, and a Facebook page. The website actually has a countdown clock measuring the time until the store opens; on Monday, it was at 34 days.
Wanda Johnson, owner of Apple’s Wine and Spirits, said that until the city issues their licenses, the state will not hand the business one either. Yet the store’s owners are preparing to open with the mindset that they have a license awaiting them soon.
“We’re going forward,” said Johnson, who’s store will be located in the Somerset Mall. “We’re very close to being able to put in inventory. We’re just hoping that by the time we’re ready to open the doors, we’ll be able to get all the appropriate permits and licenses.”
Johnson said that she’s kept in contact with Somerset ABC Administrator Nick Bradley, and has kept him updated on the store’s progress. She has not been given a firm timetable yet on when to expect a resolution to the dispute between the city and state, but does know the city hopes to have good news for applicants by March.
Apple Wine and Spirits has acquired much of the needed equipment and infrastructure, including a Point of Sale system, security system, and employees in place.
“At this point, the city isn’t slowing us down on putting on the stops,” said Johnson. “Once they give us the licenses, the city will do their final inspection. Nobody has got a license right now as far as a retail liquor store.
“Hopefully we’ll be able to open our doors and start bringing in revenue for the city and business,” she added.