HAGERSTOWN—Washington County liquor officials want the public to know that business owners can’t sell their liquor licenses under any circumstances.
Robert L. Everhart, chairman of the Board of License Commissioners for Washington County, said that the liquor board wanted the public to know because there’s a misconception among licensees that they can sell their license if the price is right.
“A license is absolutely not sold,” Everhart said. “The only way to obtain a license is through the issue of a new license or the transfer of an existing one .... If you think you bought a license, someone told you wrong.”
The issue was discussed during a public hearing Wednesday, when James Binau, owner of Old Orchard Liquors near Hagerstown, told the liquor board that he heard the liquor license of the former Wolfe’s on the Square in Williamsport was sold at public auction earlier this month.
The rumored sale price was $65,000.
During a subsequent hearing the same day, Thomas Britner, a representative of the Bowman Development Group in Williamsport, confirmed that the company bought the right to transfer the license during a public auction at Wolfe’s on June 17 to open a “first-rate package store.”
“We understand that we were purchasing the right to transfer the license,” Britner said. “I was fully aware we had to go through the application process.”
Britner said he understood there was no guarantee and that Bowman Development would get back its money if the deal fell through.
Everhart said after the hearing that the liquor board wrote a letter on June 3 warning J.G. Cochran Auctioneers and Associates of Boonsboro that they had to reword an advertisement that the company used to promote the auction at Wolfe’s.
The advertisement incorrectly implied that Wolfe’s liquor license would be sold at the auction, Everhart said.
“It has come to the attention of the Board of License Commissioners that Cochran Auctions has offered for public auction a licensed liquor establishment, in a particular advertisement on the back page of The Herald-Mail newspaper ... that miscellaneous related store items as well as a Class A liquor license would be sold the same day beginning at 10 a.m., on Friday, June 17, 2011, at Wolfe’s on the Square,” a portion of the letter said. “No liquor license can be sold with an establishment or by itself per se. All liquor licenses must be transferred from the licensee to the applicant.”
Thomas Bikle of Cochran Auctioneers said Wednesday that to his knowledge, the advertisement had been changed before the auction. Bikle acknowledged that the right to transfer the license was sold for close to $65,000.
He said Wednesday that he tried to talk to the liquor board before the auction, but they wouldn’t see him. Bikle said he then turned the matter over to Jack Slick, owner of Wolfe’s on the Square.
Slick said Wednesday that the liquor board informed him that he couldn’t sell the license. However, he claimed that he was told that he could sell the right to transfer the license as long as the buyer was informed about several conditions, including that the transfer of the license would have to be approved by the liquor board.
When a licensee sells his or her business, the liquor license often is included to make the property more attractive to buyers, Slick said.
“It happens all the time,” he said. “They just don’t give it up and say, ‘You take it.’ There’s always a monetary value for the holder.”
Slick said he was confident that the liquor board would approve the transfer of his license to Bowman Development.
Everhart said after the hearing that to his knowledge, no one at the liquor board refused to meet with Bikle or told Slick that he could sell the right to transfer the license.
He said that the liquor board understands that licensees sell their licenses under the table, but there hasn’t been any proof until the auction at Wolfe’s.
“We can always deny the transfer,” Everhart said. “It’s only issued if we approve it.”
Caron Brace, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Comptroller’s Office, said local liquor boards have jurisdiction over such matters.
“All we do is make sure businesses aren’t selling alcohol without a license,” she said.
Everhart said that he talked to the comptroller’s office on Wednesday and received its support.