Wine Shop Proposal Prompts Survey

When the Village of Ephraim voted to allow on-premise sales of beer and wine six years ago, there were concerns the change could alter the character of the village and lead to noise and other issues related to alcohol. Those have not materialized, but the village remains hesitant to further loosen alcohol sales, in part because of the convoluted language of Wisconsin alcoholic beverage licenses. 

Monique McClean, owner of Pearl Wine Cottage on Church Street, would like to expand her business to sell wine in a retail setting similar to grocery stores, gas stations and specialty shops. To do so, she must obtain a Class A liquor license, which would also allow her to sell hard liquor, which she said she has no interest in doing. 

Under Wisconsin beverage laws, a retailer can obtain a license to sell only beer for off-premise consumption, but to sell wine, a retailer must obtain the liquor license. There is not a separate license to sell only wine.

For the village, giving her that license would open the door to others who do want to sell liquor, putting trustees in a tough spot. Though the board has the authority to approve the license, trustee Tim Nelson suggested the question be put before residents through a referendum. 

Trustee Matt Meacham disagreed.

“I don’t think this should go to public opinion,” Meacham said. “We’re elected. This is a matter of whether this board sees fit as to selling intoxicating liquor. I, for one, think we can make that decision here.”

The board decided not to take it to a referendum, but instead to survey residents. Meacham suggested phrasing the question simply, “Do you want to see a liquor store in Ephraim?”
That prompted Steve Sauter to clarify what the board was talking about. Sauter was on the board when discussion of a referendum to allow beer and wine was underway. He said it was an education in how confusing the state licenses are. 

“This is about retail,” he said. “Our state has a license allowing retail beer, but not wine. But to sell wine, you have to have a Class A license. Personally, I don’t think it matters either way. I’ve been to the recycling center, and I don’t think there’s anyone who could say those things are not consumed in our village.”

McClean spoke up to clarify what she was seeking and asked the village to take that into consideration when crafting the survey question.  

“First of all, as Steve mentioned, the licensing is complex and confusing,” she said. “I think people have an idea in their heads of what a liquor store is. And that is nothing I – or I don’t think anyone else who wants a business in Ephraim – wants to do. I think it’s important to get people’s feedback and thoughts, but this has been on the agenda for four months.” 

The village will work on crafting a survey question to be approved at the next board meeting in May.

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