A new business opened in Brookfield recently, but the president of the company is upset with city officials.
Total Wine & More, a Bethesda, Maryland-based chain that sells wine, beers and spirits, opened a store recently at Calhoun Crossing on Bluemound Road.
“We really love Brookfield and think we will do great there,” said David Trone, co-founder and president of Total Wine.
But the Total Wine store in Brookfield will not be able to operate at its optimal level because city officials have only granted it a Class A liquor license, instead of the Class B liquor license it requested.
What’s the difference? With a Class A license, the store will be allowed to serve customers small samples but will not be allowed to hold wine tastings and classes, which make up 20 percent of its revenue and are a major part of its overall customer experience, Trone said.
Brookfield Mayor Steve Ponto said the city didn’t want to grant Total Wine a Class B license because it only has one regular Class B license and six reserve licenses available.
“If we have a hotel come in, we have to be able to offer them a Class B license for a restaurant,” Ponto said.
This situation begs the question: Why are municipalities in Wisconsin limited to an arbitrary number of liquor licenses? Local officials should certainly only grant liquor licenses for appropriate locations and to responsible operators. But as far as the total number of establishments in a community, that should be determined by the marketplace.
The state has a complex formula for determining how many liquor licenses each municipality gets. The idea of limiting them harkens back to the days just after the end of prohibition, according to state Rep. Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield). He has worked to make changes to Wisconsin’s liquor license laws, but it has been an uphill battle.
The laws are outdated and have not kept up with modern consumer preferences, which is hurting business opportunities in the state, Kooyenga said. Wineries, for example, are not allowed to serve alcohol late at night, which makes it difficult for them to host events like weddings.
Anyone in Wisconsin who owns a bar, restaurant or retail liquor business is not allowed to obtain a permit to open a brewery. For that reason, state officials last year actually encouraged one group to open a brewery in Illinois instead of Wisconsin, then later changed their position in that particular case.
“This is how bad it is,” Kooyenga said.
It is difficult to make changes to liquor license laws because of the influence of the Tavern League of Wisconsin. The Tavern League protects its members from competition by opposing any legislation that would make it easier for other establishments to get a liquor license, Kooyenga said.
But we ought to be encouraging, not discouraging, competition for restaurants, bars and other liquor license holders.
Ponto said Total Wine and others wanting a Class B license should go to the state Legislature and ask for the liquor license laws to be changed.
“People don’t want to go to Madison because there are powerful forces there,” he said.