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Liquor store's request for lounge up for discussion tomorrow

Sept. 12, 2011

When one drugstore chain was allowed to sell liquor, numerous other drugstores, national chain retailers and convenience stores put in their applications. Following the smoking ban, the city received plans from bars and restaurants wanting smoking patios where liquor could be served.

Some members of the Wauwatosa Common Council called it "the ripple effect" or "a slippery slope" - but regardless of the buzz word, it's a reality that once one business receives an approval, it's extremely hard to say no to others, Alderman Dennis McBride said.

On Tuesday, he opposed the precedent that granting a tavern license to liquor store Tosa Wine & Spirits would set.

"I'm amazed that we're even considering this," he said. "It's a colossally bad idea."

Some council members agreed with him, while others admitted to confusion about local and state laws. On a vote of 8-7, the issue got sent back to the Community Development Committee for further consideration.

The committee had made a recommendation to approve the license earlier in the evening, but Alderman Don Birschel said he didn't believe his fellow committee members understood the gravity of the situation. He represents the district along with Alderwoman Cheryl Berdan, who said a bar is not a good addition to a neighborhood typified by a popcorn wagon, a music store that serves children and plenty of homes.

"When you sell open intoxicants in an establishment, he then goes to the state for a tavern license," Birschel said. "The city loses all control over the hours of that business."

Not renewing a tavern license or revoking one takes a quasi-judicial hearing, making it extremely difficult to undo an approval, he said.

Although owner Harneet Kaur has promised to close the bar at the same time as the shop, state law would allow him to remain open until 2 a.m. weekdays and 2:30 a.m. on the weekends.

Businesses can't have both a retail and tavern license, and Kaur said he would opt for the latter. That would limit him to sell four liters of alcohol - four bottles of wine, for example - to be consumed off premises to any one customer.

The bar/lounge would only seat six to eight people and would allow people to try the craft beers, wines and higher-end spirits before they buy them. If a customer is going to spend $25 for a four-pack of beer, they want to make sure they like it first, Kaur said.

Pushing the higher-end products is better for business than bringing in more run-of-the-mill products, which he said would be an alternative to bolster sales if his lounge request is denied.

"We want to upscale it," he said. "Nobody wants to make less money."

Kaur provided nearly 200 signatures in support of his plan, and said many were from residents of the neighborhood who patronize his business. Alderwoman Linda Nikcevich saw this as evidence of local support and a viable business trying to make changes to succeed.

She doesn't see a bar in a liquor store to be nearly as objectionable as the liquor sales licenses the council has granted to drug stores and retailers, where children are permitted.

But Mayor Jill Didier wondered if the next step would be a request to serve alcohol in those retail shops.

"We could have a CVS and a Walgreens having a bar," she said. "It's a possibility. I don't feel that's the direction our community wants to go."

AT A GLANCE

The following is a listing of how each council member voted on whether to send the request by Tosa Wine & Spirits to open an in-store bar back to committee for further discussion:

In favor of returning to committee: Cheryl Berdan, Don Birschel, Tim Hanson, Dennis McBride, Bobby Pantuso, Jeff Roznowski, Jason Wilke and Craig Wilson

Opposed: Kathy Causier, Brian Ewerdt, Jacqueline Jay, Eric Meaux, Linda Nikcevich, Jill Organ and Michael Walsh

Absent: Peter Donegan

Next step

WHAT: The Community Development Committee will continue to discuss a request by Tosa Wine & Spirits to open a lounge inside its shop.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Tuesday

WHERE: City Hall, 7725 W. North Ave.

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