Liquor License Hell

A while back I challenged anyone who doubted the burden of regulation to go try to get  a California liquor license.  Today, John Stossel echos the same theme in this post.

"The authority's 26-page "on-premises" application requires owners' detailed financial information, prior employment experience, proof of citizenship and floor-plan details, and it also entails fingerprinting and background investigations. It asks whether music will be played (and if so, what kind) and whether dancing is planned"¦ Such was the complexity of the application process that "I visited the office so many times, it got to the point where the guards stopped asking me for identification," Steve Chahalis said.

I can concur with this experience. In every state I have gotten licenses, I have encountered a bureaucracy that has pretty much forgotten even why it exists or what it is trying to achieve. The Department of Labor can be a pain in the butt, but it at least it has a mission (protect workers from depredations by "the man"), even if that mission is sometimes misguided. But it is impossible to even figure out what problem state liquor boards are trying to protect us from with some of the detailed questionnaires and picayune attention to detailed responses**.

Yet the Times and the bureaucrats have the nerve to blame the businesses: "Restaurant and bar owners are to blame for some of the delays" says the reporter, quoting a state bureaucrat who says: "Ninety percent of the applications are incomplete when submitted."

LOL. Let me give you one example. I had to cancel my entire application, on which I had spent over a year, resubmit a new application, and pay an additional $200 in fees all because on one form (out of scores) there was a typo that showed the address on "Lake Pire Rd" rather than "Lake Piru Rd."   So was this my fault, having a typo in thousands of words of application responses, or the fault of the state liquor board's for not just hand annotating the typo and moving on? If you told me that the main guiding principle of ABC operations was to find a way to reject and send back every single application for even the most trivial of reasons, I could not muster any evidence to disagree with you.

I always complete the applications myself, but I may finally give in on the next California application. In California, the state is full of consultants who will fly your application through the process. Anyone want to guess who these consultants are? If you guessed "retired government alcoholic beverage commission employees," you win. This is the retirement plan they have created for themselves -- make the process so onerous for individuals trying to navigate it that they are forced to use a retired ABC employee as a consultant, after which the process magically goes smoothly.
By the way, this is also another good example of how large corporations are benefited by regulation vs. smaller competitors.  TGIFridays, for example, has a whole department of people who just do liquor licenses.

**Postscript:  Part of the problem is that states are trying to protect us from Al Capone -- thus all the fingerprinting and background checks.  But that problem was solved with legalization.

  • ElamBend

    Those fingerprints and backgrounds checks can also be used for other things, like searching for dead beat dads, old parking tickets, etc. That's why in California appraisers have to get fingerprinted. In Chicago, the local governments are great at coming up with ways to do this, for instance each new real estate development has to get a city license. Well, since each development uses a separate LLC, each LLC has to get this license which consists of a fee and a little check on every single equity owner for malfeasance. We applied one time (single page app) and were told that we couldn't get it until one of the partners paid a ticket which turned out to be so new, he didn't know he'd even gotten it (from a red light camera).

    As for liquor licenses, Chicago has one of the highest bar per capita rates in the country so a liquor license can be a pretty big deal. It's not impossible to get one, but it can cost you and you can bet knowing the right people will speed things along (or slow them down depending on if those 'right people' like you).

  • DJB

    "Anyone want to guess who these consultants are? If you guessed “retired government alcoholic beverage commission employees,” you win. This is the retirement plan they have created for themselves — make the process so onerous for individuals trying to navigate it that they are forced to use a retired ABC employee as a consultant, after which the process magically goes smoothly."

    The Joint Commission(JCAHO) pulls the same crap. They lost sight of their mission long ago and now exist only for the sake of their own bureaucracy.

  • Jim Collins

    I'll trade you California's liquor laws for Pennsylvania's in a heartbeat. I'm an officer of a fraternal organization that has a liquor license. A few weeks ago I get a phone call asking me to stop at the State Store to pick-up a few things that we were short on. I pass two of these stores on the way in from work. One is very easy to get in and out of and the other is a pain in the neck to find parking for. I stop at the easy one and pick-up what we needed and take it to the club. When I get there, our bar steward informs me that I need to take the items back to the store I bought them from and buy them at the other store. The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board specifies the particular State Store that you have to do business with. We have to keep liquor reciepts and there are spot checks to see if you are buying from the correct store.

    Then I found out about their no refund or exchange policy, to the tune of $200.

  • Brandybuck

    At least California doesn't have "state stores".

  • redc1c4

    try getting a pharmacy license in CA..............

    better yet, don't bother trying.