By Jerry Farrell, Jr.
With nearly 8,000 liquor permits spread across Connecticut, the process of securing a liquor license will always remain, in some fashion, a part of liquor control law, even if the laws get significantly amended. At the time I left as Chairman of the Liquor Control Commission in 2011, my memory is that the Liquor Control Division received approximately 50 new liquor license applications a week.
There are some applicants who get their applications returned and complain about the process “being difficult.” I point out to the clients who hire me to put their applications together how important it is to get the application filled out completely─ and to attach as many things as the liquor agent is going to want to look at to get the application approved. Failure to fill out certain parts of the application and failure to provide the essential attachments usually insures that the application will get returned.
For my clients, I want to make sure that the essentials are there so the application doesn’t get returned, and I also want to make it as easy as possible for the agent to review it and approve it. Put yourself in the shoes of the liquor agent. While you know your business site well, the liquor agent does not. Make sure that the photographs and sketch you provide make it easy for the agent to look at it and understand it. Make sure that the sketch clearly labels each space. Be sure to mark which space will be the “locked liquor storage” and which will be the “bar room.” I know liquor agents like seeing good photographs of the kitchen area of any restaurant or café, so that they can see all the kitchen equipment in it, and not be left suspecting that all that the kitchen consists of is a microwave in a forgotten corner.
Many applicants stumble even before their application lands on the desk of a liquor agent, specifically in obtaining the signatures of municipal officials – the town clerk, the town planner, and the fire marshal. The applicant takes his filled-out liquor license application to town hall only to sometimes learn that obtaining those signatures isn’t as perfunctory as he or she thought.
• Is the site the applicant proposes properly zoned to allow for a liquor-related business?
• Is there some local requirement of a minimum distance between liquor-related businesses?
Even assuming the site is properly zoned and isn’t running afoul of any distance requirement, some towns require going to the Planning and Zoning Commission to get site plan approval for any liquor-related business.
Getting out the door of Town Hall with the town planner’s signature on your application often isn’t as easy as it seems; equally so with the fire marshal. The best case scenario is one where the site you are proposing has already been used in the manner you seek to – a restaurant occupying the space previously occupied by a restaurant, for instance – and the fire marshal is familiar with the space and happy with it. The further you move away from that scenario, the more difficult it is going to be to obtain the fire marshal’s signature.
A mistake that often comes back to haunt many a liquor licensee is not fully disclosing who is financing the business. The liquor control laws do very much focus on who owns the business entity operating the establishment and where the financing of the business comes from. Either because of a lack of knowledge, or because of a real attempt to conceal who financially controls a business, the applicant fails to adequately disclose on the application where the money is coming from to start and to operate the business– sometimes leading to potential charges of “hidden ownership” being lodged.
Even once the application has passed an initial review by a liquor agent, applicants then often make mistakes involving the placard that must be posted while the application is pending. Too often, applicants fail to put up the placard on a timely basis. If that placard isn’t put up during the period the law requires, it may be necessary to go through the placarding process a second time. This not only can delay your application by months, and cost you additional money, but it will also end up giving someone who objects to your business being granted a license – someone who files a so-called “remonstrance” with Liquor Control – additional time to create that document and gather the necessary signatures of town residents.
These are just some of the stumbling blocks that an applicant can run into applying for a liquor license.
The liquor agents, small in number, handle a tremendous volume of applications and do their best to work with applicants. Give them the information they need to understand your application. Anticipate their questions and attempt to answer those questions, especially by providing additional documents.
If you can walk in the liquor agent’s shoes and understand that no two locations and no two situations they encounter are ever the same, you are going to have a much easier time of “getting to yes”—and to having your liquor license application approved by the Liquor Control Commission.
Jerry Farrell, Jr. served as Chairman of the Connecticut Liquor Control Commission from 2006 to 2011. Today, he is an attorney in private practice, assisting clients with liquor licensing and compliance issues. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The opinions expressed here are not intended as legal advice; consult your attorney for legal advice specific to your problems and issues.