How to get a liquor license in New York
Preliminarily, there are many different types of liquor licenses that one can obtain in New York. This article focuses on licenses for on premises consumption and on licenses for off premises consumption.
Obtaining a liquor license in New York is no easy task. Although the state liquor authority (referred to throughout as SLA or liquor authority) maintains a general policy of wanting to promote business and to issue licenses, the process is long. It begins with you (hopefully) hiring a lawyer or another professional proficient in handling liquor license applications. While I am certain that you can probably complete the application and submit it on your own successfully, it is unlikely that a person who is not familiar with the ins and outs of the liquor authority can go through this process efficiently and without significant frustration.
The SLA fees vary and one should specifically consult the SLA’s retail fee chart and the instructions for the particular application for guidance because the SLA does regularly update its policies and procedures. The retail fee chart can be found here: NY SLA Retail Fee Chart.
Professional fees also vary, but an applicant should plan to spend between $2000 and $6000 on such fees ($3,500 is about average). Additionally there are smaller fees related to legal notice publication and obtaining the liquor license bond (depending on the county in which the premises are located, these range from $300 total to $600).
Applicants also should not be afraid to call or email the SLA with questions. Given the number of applications that the SLA processes and the complexities that can arise in handling a liquor license application, I highly recommend that you ask questions in writing and send them to the following email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
WHAT TO EXPECT
Fundamentally, the licensing process is one of fitness review and information gathering. The liquor authority is attempting to determine whether the applicant or principals of the applicant are persons to whom they are willing to entrust the liquor license (there is a list of specific persons not eligible, but the liquor authority also has significant discretion), and whether the premises themselves are fit to house a business with a liquor license. While engaging in that inquiry, the liquor authority gathers a substantial amount of information from applicants.
The process for obtaining a liquor license depends on the type of applicant that will hold the license. An applicant that desires to sell liquor for off premises consumption will have different licensing requirements than an applicant that desires to sell liquor for on premises consumption. For applicants that desire to sell liquor for off premises consumption, the application process begins with the state liquor authority to which the applicant must submit all information requested in the appropriate application (there are different applications depending on the type of premises). For applicants that desire to sell liquor for consumption on premises, the application process begins with the local community board, to which a 30-day notice of intention to file an application for a liquor license must be sent before the application may even be sent to the liquor authority. Oftentimes, the community board is the most important player with respect to applicants desiring to sell liquor for on premises consumption, because the liquor authority will respect whatever the community board says with respect to whether they recommend approval of the liquor license or not. Some community boards do not participate in the process at all, in which case the entire decision whether to grant the license falls squarely on the SLA’s shoulders.
Even though the liquor authority gathers a substantial amount of information about the applicant, there are aspects of the application that are particularly important to the SLA, two of which are the financial disclosure and the personal questionnaire. These forms seem rather simple and straightforward, but the liquor authority is extremely serious about collecting thorough and complete responses with respect to both forms. Both need to be reviewed and completed very carefully. This is one reason why you really should work with a professional in obtaining your liquor license.
All applicants should plan to submit with their application materials letters of support from the local community. They are not required by the SLA, but the community board may require them. These are letters from individuals who live nearby or in the same building and from local community organizations, including churches. They substantially bolster your likelihood of obtaining the license.
After the application is submitted, it is reviewed for completeness by SLA employees. If there is information missing, they will request it in writing and require that it be submitted by a set deadline, which if not met may result in denial of the application. Then there is a lot of waiting.
Applicants seeking to sell liquor for off premises consumption experience scrutiny similar to applicants seeking to sell liquor for on premises consumption, but are not subject to the more stringent inquiry that may occur with an applicant seeking to sell liquor for on premises consumption if the premises are located within 500 feet of three or more establishments with the same type of license (this does not apply to applicants for beer and wine licenses). If an applicant seeking to sell liquor for on premises consumption is within 500 feet of three or more establishments with the same type of license, then they will need to plan to attend a “500 foot hearing” with the liquor authority explaining why it is in the public interest to issue the license (the statute prohibits the issuance of a license if there are three or more establishments with the same license sought by the applicant located within 500 feet of the applicant’s proposed premises). This hearing is relatively straightforward, but it requires substantial preparation in order for it to go smoothly.
By statute, no license can be granted to an applicant whose premises is located within 200 feet of a school or church that has its main entrance on the same street as the applicant’s premises, but, depending on the location of the premises, the liquor authority has some discretion with respect to that rule.
As a general matter, the customer service representatives and examiners for the liquor authority are very professional and helpful, but the process of obtaining the license can be very slow, particularly if the entity for which you are applying is one with many principals. The process, however, will go substantially faster with the assistance of a competent professional.
If you are interested in obtaining a liquor license in New York and you need assistance or have additional questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.
This blog post is not intended to consist of legal advice and you should always consult with a lawyer before acting on anything you find on the Internet. If you have questions or comments about this post, about the topic, or if you need legal assistance, you should feel free to give us a call or send us an email.