A bar in a liquor store? Wauwatosa outlet seeks license change

Plan commissioners have their doubts

July 13, 2011

A Wauwatosa liquor store wants to open a lounge to boost sales, but city officials worry a change in liquor license would take away any city control over the business's operation.

Tosa Wine & Spirits, 11747 W. North Ave., has applied to open a small bar area that shop owners are calling "a lounge" with couches and a few tables that would provide seating for fewer than 10 people, a bar and television. People could order craft beers and socialize with friends from the neighborhood, owner Amandip Singh said.

Shortly after Tosa Wine & Spirits received permission to sell liquor, Tobacco Outlet across the street and a nearby Walgreens got licenses to sell packaged spirits. The competition has kept sales down, so a new strategy is needed to differentiate the liquor store, Singh said.

Singh pointed to Vino 100 in the Village - which sells wine by the glass and in bottles to take home - as an operation he would like to emulate, but Mayor Jill Didier said "there's not even a close comparison."

To only sell alcohol packaged to consume off premise, an establishment obtains a Class A license, but serving alcohol on site would require a change to a Class B license, Deputy City Clerk Susan Van Hoven told the Plan Commission on Monday night.

"The state only allows one license, she said.

A Class B license is also called a tavern license allowing an establishment to stay open until 2 a.m. Restaurants also apply for Class B licenses, but because less than 50 percent of their sales come from alcohol they aren't considered taverns and the city has more regulatory power, Community Development Director Nancy Welch said. The city also has more discretion in areas of the city, such as North Avenue in East Tosa, are zoned as trade districts.

Singh said he plans to close the lounge at 9 p.m., the same state-mandated end time for packaged liquor sales. Still commissioners worry business owners have failed to live up to the original promises of operating an upscale wine store and are already asking to make a significant change to operations.

"Every time I drive by I feel like it looks like a cheap liquor store," commissioner Jody Lowe said.

The signage certainly doesn't promote high-end brands, and there's nothing to prohibit the shop from serving cheap beer and adding liquor to the bar, said Alderman Don Birschel, who sits on the commission.

"I'm worried about losing complete control when they get their tavern license and the next thing you know they're open until 2 a.m.," he said.

Worse yet, the competing businesses will likely want to follow suit and an approval would have a "Domino effect," he said.

The commission voted, 4-2, to hold the request for a conditional permit for a month to consult the city attorney if the city can put any limits on hours of operation. In the meantime, the business owner can apply for a change of liquor license.

Birschel and Didier voted in opposition, because they didn't want to see a bar added regardless of the hours.

Next step

WHAT: Plan Commission could consider allowing Tosa Wine & Spirits to put a bar in the store

WHEN: 7 p.m. Aug. 8

WHERE: City Hall, 7725 W. North Ave.


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