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Because it's the law!

Every once in a while, an archaic Blue Law jumps up and bites a small business owner. Here's an instance from a small community in Michigan...



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  1. The church did nothing wrong or extraneous. As a neighbor of the restaurant they sent in a letter expressing their opinion. That is all. It did not completely deny them as liquor license, it just denied them a quick approval. They may still receive a license, they just have to go through the longer process. If the people don't like the law they should get it changed. The only reason this is a story is because of the church. If it was a Boys and Girls Club or a public school you wouldn't hear anything about it.

    6 Replies
    1. re: PotatoHouse

      It's not just that "it's a church." By viture of an osbscure law, the objection raised by the church carries more weight than other objections that may have been raised. If it had been a Boys and Girls Club raising the objection, the trustees still could have noted the objection and moved on with approval without need for hearings. A church should have no more or less power over liquour license approvals than any other organization or business.

      1. re: PotatoHouse

        the opinions of a church, or any neighbour should have no bearing on the outcome.

        1. re: catroast

          I don't agree that any neighbor shouldn't have any say, on businesses nearby. But given that there are already other establishments selling alcohol nearby their objection is curious.

        2. re: PotatoHouse

          What's also unclear of the story is in regards to the gas station (which I presume has the right to sell wine/beer under a different set of laws) and Italian restaurant with a full bar - both are within the 500 feet. So why the church leadership is deciding now to raise such objections is where I think a lot of attention is coming. It's not as though she's looking to establish a night club, bar, or different kind of alcohol serving establishment from what's already in the neighborhood.

          1. re: PotatoHouse

            But what about all of the other establishments that sell alcohol within a very close distance to the church? Should their liquor licenses be pulled?

            "The letter made no mention of the gas station selling beer and wine just down the street from the church. There was no reference to the Italian restaurant with a full bar that’s in walking distance of the church steps. Or the supermarket just across the intersection offering a wide selection of booze in its aisles."

            1. re: LindaWhit

              They could be more than 500 feet, but in any case the law applies only to new license applications.

          2. I have lived in towns and counties with various Blue Laws in Oklahoma and Georgia. It is not an "obscure law" if everybody knows about it. My point was that if a B&G Club or public school had that ability under the law it would be a non-issue. Once again, my two main points of my first post were:

            1. if the people who live in that community had a serious problem with the law they should and would change it

            2. The restaurant was only denied the quick approval process. They still may receive a license through the normal (although longer) approval process.

            5 Replies
            1. re: PotatoHouse

              A point of clarification to your item 1, Potato. In Michigan, this law is a state statute, local ordinance cannot override any state statute.

              1. re: PotatoHouse

                Yes I can't manage to get up in arms over being denied quick approval as a result of a neighbors objection.

                1. re: rasputina

                  I think that given the failure rate of restaurants/businesses and the interest of smaller communities in the US to keep businesses - the frustration (as opposed to anger or outrage) at the church and at this statute is understandable.

                  Alcohol sales are a huge part of revenue for a successful restaurant, which is why I'm sure that quick approval processes were set up. I think the overall point of the article is that here is a successful eatery well liked by the community and the kind of business the community wants to attract and support - yet this statute is preventing business developments. The article is in a local paper, addressing a local issue - for the scope of the story - I think it's really appropriate.

                  1. re: cresyd

                    Right, it's a successful eatery already. There is nothing to assume that it's going to be a failure because it wasn't fast tracked for a liquor license.

                    1. re: rasputina

                      While I don't disagree that it can be successful without a fast track liquor license, I don't see that as the part of a local article in a local paper. This article and the township representatives quoted in the article are clearly looking out for the business interests in the community. Part of those interests involve selling alcohol. While this restaurant is still afloat (and there are no mentions to the actual financials of this place, it may truly be struggling) - another similar business owner might see this situation and think "I'll go elsewhere".

                      Ultimately this is a local story from central Michigan that is clearly concerned with the economic welfare and support for small business owners. Maybe the liquor license problems won't sink this restaurant, but it's also not making the environment friendly for business.

              2. This is not an obscure law.

                Many states prohibit the sale of liquor within xxx feet of a church.

                But a law allowing the church veto power over a liquor license was held to be unconstitutional by the Supreme Court over 30 years ago.

                3 Replies
                1. re: C. Hamster

                  Agree with Hamster. This law is used quite often here in Florida.

                  If the original business plan included the eventual sale of alcohol, she or her business broker failed to conduct due diligence when acquiring her space. If she is so successful, it may possibly be time to move.

                  It took 4 tries before what is now Florida Brewing Company to find a location. And there was such an uproar from the churchs, they had to go to each churchs' services to placate them and have the town council approve the business permit.

                  And regards to the Supreme Court, in the words of a code enforcement officer on another matter, " I don't care what the Supreme Court says, we will enforce this law until somebody takes us to the Supreme Court."

                  1. re: C. Hamster

                    But this law doesn't give them veto power, it just allows a business to not be fast tracked. That is the case in many situations. I remember some pretty contentious meetings over Costco locations for example.

                    1. re: rasputina

                      "As they discovered, there’s a long-standing provision in state regulations that allows a church within 500 feet of an establishment requesting a liquor license to issue an objection, essentially bringing the process to a halt. This neighboring church did just that."


                      "Michael Steinberg, legal director of the Michigan ACLU, told Parilli he wasn’t sure what his organization could do for her, though he said the ACLU was in discussions with the state over this obscure regulation, which he believes is likely unconstitutional.

                      “The government cannot give power to churches to veto establishments that serve alcohol based on their religious views,” Steinberg said."

                  2. There's probably more to this story than is revealed in the article.

                    If you look at the church building, it is quite old. Probably far predates any business in proximity to its location. The supermarket with the liquor license, and the gas station with the beer & wine license probably were far too intimidating for the church to take on. A single business owner with local and craft foods, not so much.

                    1. The law is likely inconstitutional as this was the situation in the Grendel's Den case.

                      They should hire a lawyer.


                      1. 'No offense to chain restaurants'. Why not!

                        1. “We just had our meeting and wrote a little letter,” McKenna said. “We’re not trying to make a great big issue here..." Seems to smack of fake innocence and real arrogance. 'Who us?. We're just an itty biddy church...'

                          So they don't serve wine at communion?

                          More than like likely there's more to this story. Someone either has an agenda or are trying to flex muscles of some sort.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: Withnail42

                            Churches do not necessarily use alcoholic wine for communion. They were asked for their opinion, and they responded. There's nothing fake about that just because there opinion is not what yours would be.

                            1. re: GH1618

                              Well aware about the alcohol content of sacramental wine.

                              They weren't asked for their opinion they had a meeting and 'wrote a little letter.' and offered it. I don't know their true opinion. But the quote to me reeked of false modesty.

                              1. re: Withnail42

                                The article states that the township sent a notice to the church and other close neighbors. Regardless of how the notice was worded (the article does not show it), the purpose of such a notice is to elicit public comment, if the neighbors wish to express it. The church congregation decided to express their views, so did. I don't see where modesty has anything to do with it.

                          2. The church was there maybe a 100 years before any other commerce chose that neighborhood to locate. At least three businesses settled in later, and got through the state Liquor Control Commission, and local statutes to sell beer, wine and liquor. The church and its congregation did nothing to object. So why is this single business in the church crosshairs?

                            5 Replies
                            1. re: RedTop

                              I don't know how you would know when the church was built and when the other licenses were granted, or which of those licenses went to businesses within 500 feet of the church, but lets suppose that the church was there when one other license was granted within 500 feet. It might have been many years ago, when the congregation would have been somewhat different than it is today. There might have been a similar vote which turned out differently merely because different people were voting. There is no inconsistency there.

                              This is all speculative, of course. The only thing that matters is that the current congregation was given a chance to express a position on this particular license application, and it did so. The church did not initiate the matter, so the hunting analogy is inapt.

                              1. re: GH1618

                                In the grendels den case I am pretty sure the church was there before the restaurant.

                                But that makes no difference.

                                The law itself seems to be the same or very similar to the one that had been held to be unconstitutional. Or the effect if the law.

                                1. re: C. Hamster

                                  In the Grendel's Den case (Massachusetts) the church had veto power. Here, the church does not. There must be a hearing to determine whether denial is warranted.

                                  Here is a link to an explanation of how the Michigan law works. I have no opinion on whether it is constitutional or not. That's a matter for courts to decide, if it comes to that.


                                2. re: GH1618

                                  The article does say that the church has been in that location for 150 years.