By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN
BG Independent News
Prudy Brott doesn’t mind healthy competition from new restaurants. As owner of Sunset Bistro on the west side of Bowling Green, she is comfortable with competing establishments.
However, Brott is troubled by the different rules for the transferring of liquor licenses. Her statements to City Council Tuesday evening resulted in a split vote allowing a new restaurant to bring in a license from another community.
When Brott opened up Sunset Bistro, she found getting a liquor license to be time consuming, frustrating and very expensive. In the end, she had to pay $50,000, “and I’ll be paying for it for years.”
Brott said she was told she would have to wait until someone owning a liquor license in the city was ready to sell.
“I was open for six months before I ever poured a beer in my restaurant,” she said.
Liquor licenses are parceled out by the state based on community populations. All the available liquor licenses in Bowling Green for public dine in restaurants are already owned – though not all are in use. Some owners hold onto them as investment tools.
She had inquired about purchasing a liquor license from another community, but said she was told that would not be allowed.
So when Brott learned of a new pizza place moving to Bowling Green and bringing a liquor license from another community, she was troubled.
“I’m not against them having a liquor license whatsoever,” she said. “I’m not against another restaurant in town.”
Brott just wants to preserve the value of her investment – which she sees at risk if more and more licenses can be moved to Bowling Green.
“Right now, I feel that’s a little bit threatened,” she said. “My family has put a lot on the line.”
At a City Council meeting last month, Ross and Peter Wiley, who are trying to open a Rapid Fired Pizza restaurant at 852 S. Main St., told council how much they were putting on the line.
The Wileys said they have invested approximately $500,000 in the South Main Street site and will be employing about 30 people. They want to sell craft beer with their pizzas. Since there are no more available liquor licenses for sit-down establishments in Bowling Green, any new business wanting to serve liquor needs City Council’s blessing in order to purchase a license from another community and use it here.
Brott said she didn’t have that much money to invest – but she put in all that she had. And she has 25 to 30 employees who she feels responsible for.
“I’m a girl with a dream on the west side of town,” she said. “This makes me a little bit nervous.”
Council President Mike Aspacher thanked Brott for speaking out and for her restaurant, which has been very supportive of community groups.
“We appreciate your restaurant,” Aspacher said.
Police Chief Tony Hetrick also expressed some reservations in a letter to council about bringing in liquor licenses from other communities.
In the last three years, the city police and state patrol have dealt with 1,031 traffic incidents involving alcohol within three miles of downtown Bowling Green. There have also been increases in fights and disorderly conduct in the downtown area where the majority of the bars are located.
“It’s a huge public safety concern for us. That’s why I’m concerned about the proliferation of more alcohol licenses in town,” Hetrick said.
The owners of Rapid Fired Pizza said they tried to get a local liquor license, but were not successful. City Attorney Mike Marsh said the state allows owners of liquor licenses to hold them in “safekeeping.” There are at least five liquor licenses in the city that are currently dormant, he said. Meanwhile there is a waiting list of businesses wanting the licenses – but the state sets the rules, Marsh said.
When it came time for council to vote, there were a variety of feelings expressed – many of them mixed after hearing Brott speak.
In the end, the liquor license transfer was approved, with “yes” votes by Aspacher, Bruce Jeffers, Scott Seeliger and John Zanfardino. Voting “no” were Sandy Rowland and Daniel Gordon. Bob McOmber was absent.
“It’s not the same as if we were opening another bar downtown,” Jeffers said.
“You paid a hell of a lot of money for this thing,” Jeffers said to Brott. “I don’t really like that people can hold their local license in safekeeping.”
Seeliger agreed. “I’m frustrated with the state. I think we have flawed licensing” rules, he said.
Though Seeliger said he has confidence in the police chief, he also believes in the importance of supporting new business. “This is a good thing. It seems they are really committed,” he said.
Seeliger also said City Council’s approval of this request doesn’t mean that a rush of more liquor licenses will be coming to Bowling Green. “They’ve got to go through us,” he said.
Rowland was the strong holdout against the license transfer.
“This is one of the more difficult decisions we’ve had to make on council,” she said, adding that she was aware her vote could lead to her “being accused of being anti-business.”
However, Rowland said she would support the new restaurant. “I will be eating your pizza.”
But she supported the police chief’s concerns about bringing in more liquor licenses from outside the city. She suggested that instead, the Rapid Fired Pizza owners take the same route as Brott and wait for a local license to become available.
“I have to oppose this,” Rowland said.
Gordon asked if any city administration or economic development officials could address Brott’s concerns about her license losing value. City officials replied it would only be speculation. So without answers, Gordon said he could not vote for the license transfer.
Zanfardino said he was conflicted, but would approve the resolution.
And Aspacher said he looked at the request as an economic development issue. City residents, he said, frequently ask about new restaurants in the city.
“They are eager for us to enable other restaurants,” he said. Frequently, the city is accused of conspiring to keep out chain restaurants.
“Which is not true,” Aspacher said.
The license transfer will help, he said. “It’s a bit unorthodox, but it is a legal means,” he said.