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Gainesville may ease alcohol rules
Package store owners: Paying fees early hurts business
Sammy’s Package Store owner Sammy Brown restocks shelves with margarita mix Wednesday afternoon at his Limestone Parkway business. Gainesville is considering amending part of its new alcoholic beverage ordinance that requires license holders to pay renewal fees by Nov. 15 each year.
After hearing concerns from city package store owners, the Gainesville City Council will discuss this morning possible changes to the city’s recently passed alcoholic beverage ordinances.

Package store owners have expressed concerns about one of the changes to the alcoholic beverage ordinance that requires them to pay the fees to renew their annual alcoholic beverage licenses by Nov. 15 of each year.

Until the City Council voted to change the ordinance last month, license holders had until the last business day of the year to pay their renewal fees, which are about $7,000 for a year’s license.

Woody Justus, owner of Wagon Wheel package store on Thompson Bridge Road, took his concerns before the City Council at its Aug. 28 work session.

Justus, who has done business at the same location since 1976, said forcing license holders to pay their fees at the beginning of the holiday season makes it difficult to pay for inventory at the busiest time of the year.

About one-third of Wagon Wheel’s revenue comes in at the end of the year, between the middle of October and the end of December, meaning that package store owners like Justus have to spend anywhere from $10,000 to $50,000 more to stock their stores, Justus said.

Being forced to fork over licensing fees in November makes it harder for package store owners to stock up for their busiest time — the holiday season, said Sammy Brown, owner of Sammy’s Package.

Brown says his two busiest days are Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.

Each year, Brown has to place his orders for coveted holiday gift packages of Crown Royal, Jack Daniels and high-end scotch or tequila by November or his distributors will be sold out of those products, he said.

And in the liquor business, there are no 30-day notes. Store owners have to pay for what they order when it arrives at their stores, Brown said.

"If I’ve got to lay out $7,000 for the license (in November) then all of that cuts into the cash flow (to buy Christmas inventory)," Brown said.

Both Brown and Justus said they would not pass the financial burden on to their customers with higher prices, however.

"The customers would never know the difference," Justus said.

Gainesville City Marshal Debbie Jones said the decision to make alcoholic beverage license holders pay their fees by mid-November made it easier for the city to manage renewal applications and get the following year’s licenses out to business owners before Jan. 1.

Requiring license holders to pay their renewal fees at the same time they filed their renewal paperwork streamlined the renewal process for the two city employees who handle some 130 license renewals, Jones said.

"If its all due on the same day, then everybody’s criminal history goes out on the same day and we can turn it all back around at the same time and just be done with the process," Jones said.

Yet Jones was forced to revisit the issue when package store owners said that having to pay their fees earlier would hurt their businesses.

Following instruction from council members, Jones will present an amendment to the recently passed ordinance this morning that attempts to compromise with the needs of the city and of package store owners and requires license holders to file their paperwork by mid-November and pay their renewal fees by Dec. 15 instead of in November.

Although the amendment does not allow the marshal’s office to streamline the renewal process, Jones said the amendment is still an improvement over the old ordinance because it allows the city to give business owners their licenses by the end of the year.