The owner of a new restaurant in downtown Greenwood had to track down a permit from a restaurant that had gone out of business so that he would be allowed to sell beer, wine and liquor.
In Greenwood, all of the permits that allow business to sell all three types of alcohol already had been issued, so Revery chef and owner Mark Henrichs had to hunt down one that was not in use and buy it from the owner.
If none of those permits were available, he would have only been allowed to sell beer and wine and forced to wait for another permit to become available, Henrichs said. Businesses such as a restaurant, bar or liquor store could be forced to choose a different city or town if all permits are in use, but that’s usually not the case in Johnson County where most types of permits are still available.
Restaurants, bars and liquor stores are required to get a state permit that allows them to sell alcohol. The permits range from allowing only beer to be sold, to allowing a business to sell beer, wine and liquor. Less than half of the county’s alcohol permits have been issued, meaning there are opportunities for new restaurants, bars or liquor stores to open.
Permits to sell beer, wine and liquor in restaurants and stores are the most sought after around the state, Indiana State Excise Police spokesman Cpl. Travis Thickstun said. Some of those permits are still available in parts of Johnson County, which is rare, he said.
The state sets a quota for each city and town based on their population and size, meaning only a certain number of permits can be issued.
For example, Greenwood is allowed 34 beer, wine and liquor permits, while Franklin gets 16 and Trafalgar can have only one.
Those quotas increase as an area grows and therefore needs more restaurants or stores to serve the people, which is what has happened in Johnson County. Before 2008, Greenwood was allowed 26 beer, wine and liquor permits for restaurants, but the state increased that amount after the city’s population grew by about 30 percent in the early 2000s.
Since the quota system limits how much alcohol can be sold in one area, businesses might relocate to other places where permits are available. All of the beer, wine and liquor licenses for restaurants are in use in Greenwood, but four are available in Franklin, meaning someone who wants to open a new restaurant or bar would have an easier time opening there.
If a permit becomes available because a restaurant or bar is closing, no longer wants to serve that type of alcohol, or has its license revoked because of violations, the state conducts an auction where business owners or investors can try to win that available permit, Thickstun said. Permits fees are $500 to $1,000, but a business could spend more than that if it needs to buy a permit from an owner or win it at auction, Thickstun said.
“You could attempt to transfer someone else’s permit and you still have to go through the entire application process if someone is willing to give it up to you. If they’re not available, you’d have to look somewhere else,” Thickstun said.
Business owners have to apply through the Indiana Alcohol and Tobacco Commission and then get approval from a local board, which conducts hearings and considers complaints from nearby residents or people in the community. Board members sometimes hear complaints from neighbors who are concerned about noise or fights that may happen around a new bar, but typically the board has no reason to deny new permits or renewals, alcoholic beverage commission member Dick Midkiff said.
Restaurants that want to serve beer and wine, beer only or wine only would have no issue getting started because those permits are available in most parts of the county. Unless neighbors had compelling reasons for the county board to deny an application or renewal, such as proving a history of serving alcohol to minors or selling alcohol they’re not licensed for, the board would approve it, Midkiff said.
Approving those permits allows new stores to open or gives people more choices on where to go out to eat and enjoy a drink, which creates new business for a city or town, he said.
“If there’s a license available and they’re qualified, they’re not going to get it stopped unless (people remonstrating) really have a valid reason,” he said.
The alcoholic beverage board typically has about five to 10 permits to approve each month, Midkiff said, since permits need to be renewed every two years. Board members also will occasionally visit local bars or restaurants to take a look around and make sure they’re not serving alcohol to minors or that servers are properly checking IDs, he said.