After smooth sailing the first time seeking tentative approval for a new wine bar and store in the Rock Spring Shopping Center, the second time around the owners of the new establishment are up against opposition from owners of other liquor store owners in the community.
The approval of the new restaurant and liquor store was approved March 20, 2013, by the Harford County Liquor Control Board, which then rescinded the approval July 30, 2013, because the licensees, Randall Cypher and Baron Edwards, did not provide for the board a timely update on the project, according to Liquor Board Administrator Judi Powell.
The same people resubmitted their request for tentative approval on Sept. 13, 2013 and, after several postponements at the request of both sides, presented their plans to the liquor board members at their meeting Wednesday.
No one contested the first approval, but owners of at least four other liquor establishments in the area were at Wednesday's meeting to protest not the wine bar and restaurant part of the project — which will be called Wine Sellers, if the approval is granted — but the retail store they say will be heavily relied on for income and will be competition to their stores.
"I have no objection to the wine bar, restaurant," Peter LaClair, owner of Liquor Stop on Conowingo Road in Hickory, told board members. "But when you have a pie that's this big, [adding another store] is going to dilute how I make my income, make my living."
Wednesday's hearing lasted about four hours, with lawyers bringing in expert witnesses about the need for another liquor store in the area and questioning two of the three licensees about their intentions with the business.
Cypher, whose father, Ronald Cypher, is also a licensee, but lives out of state, is proposing the wine bar-restaurant and store in the Rock Spring Shopping Center at 1445 Rock Spring Road.
Cypher, who lives in Havre de Grace, told board members the $850,000 project includes an 82-seat bar and restaurant area and an approximately 1,700-ssquare-foot retail area where he will sell mostly the upscale wines, spirits and craft brews that will be sold in the restaurant.
He said he will have a "unique wine dispensing system" that allows wine bottles to be re corked once they're open and stored at the proper temperatures. Wine will be able to be preserved for 60 days, which will allow him to offer better quality wines to his customers, he said.
People in the community "are hoping we can bring a wine bar to that area, they're really excited about it. They're just looking for a nice, quality establishment to go for a nice glass of wine," Cypher said.
He said he anticipates two-thirds of his gross revenue will come from the bar and restaurant, and the remaining third from the retail area, that will also sell wine glasses, materials for wines, chillers, etc. He will not be selling miniature bottles or single bottles of beer or malt liquor. He needs the retail end, he said, for "profitability."
"You want to be able to balance yourself," he said.
Cypher already has the beer, wine and liquor license to sell on- and off-premise. He owned and operated the Eagle's Nest restaurant in the Aberdeen Shopping Plaza for 17 years until 2011, when the landlord did not renew his lease, and is seeking to change the location of the license, Powell said.
'Full-blown liquor store'
He's moving it to an area that already has enough liquor stores, the protesters told board members Wednesday.
"The crux of it is this type of license and the potential to become a liquor store," Mike Scheuerman, owner of Friendship Wine and Liquor on Constant Friendship Boulevard, said. For 18 years before moving to Constant Friendship Boulevard, he operated a 2,000-square-foot store in across Route 24 in Constant Friendship Shopping Center.
"This is too close to Jay's and too close to Pete's...," he said.
Charles Dean, owner of Bel Air Liquors, which recently moved to a larger building on Main Street from Hickory Avenue across from the Bel Air Volunteer Fire Company, said the carry-out portion could pose a problem.
"Even if it's just beer, wine and liquor, it could compete with a majority of our livelihood," Dean said. "There is a limited amount of business to be had...I don't know why they see a need for the carry-out portion of this business."
"I don't think there's a need for another license in the vicinity. The community is already being accommodated with the existing number of licenses," he said.
Bel Air lawyer Jay Young, who represents the licensees of Ronnie's Beverage Warehouse about 1,000 feet away from the proposed Wine Sellers, said the liquor board, by law, cannot grant a license, if it is not necessary to accommodate the public, or if there is no need and that the retail area proposed for Wine Sellers constitutes a full-fledged liquor store, not just a retail area as Cypher described.
"The liquor industry is so heavily regulated. It's not like opening up a candy store," he said.
It's a supply and demand argument, and he used the analogy of a pie. In this case, the pie is the liquor industry within a 2- to 5-mile area around Rock Spring Shopping Center, and someone wants a slice of the pie.
"If the pie has gotten larger and can give a person a piece without taking away from the other licenses, then it should be granted. If the pie hasn't gotten larger, then you'd be taking away from others," Young said.
Because the industry is so heavily regulated, he said, a licensee who invests half a million into a renovation and several more million into inventory, he knows his "investment is somewhat protected because there is this law."
His witnesses testified during Wednesday's meeting, he said, that the pie hasn't gotten any bigger, "if they want to give him this store, they're going to have to take away from someone else's store."
Five Harford businesses have Class D licenses like the one Cypher is trying to move. Three don't have retail components (six-packs are served from behind the bar), while Enotria in Forest Hill has 200 square feet of retail space and Old School Tavern in Street has 750 square feet in its retail area.
Wine Sellers would be 1,750, Young said, large enough to be a full-blown liquor store.
"Other licenses testified that they had stores smaller than that and generated $1 million plus in gross sales," he said. "If you give someone $1 million from a pice of pie, it's going to take a lot of money from other people."
One of the licensees protesting the location change Wednesday said they didn't appear during the first approval process because they were told it did not include off-premise sales. Powell said nothing has changed from the previous application to the new one.
When the first tentative approval was granted, the board required that the licensees provide 60-day updates on the status of the project, which would have meant they would be due by May 20 and July 20, by board rules, Powell said.
Their lawyer, Eric McLaughlin, was scheduled to appear before the board May 15, but he requested and was granted a postponement until May 29.
The July 20 update, however, was not received in a timely manner, Powell said, and the board chose to rescind the tentative approval.
The board said the next update was due July 20, but it was not received until July 30, 10 days late, according to the rules, Powell said. Even if McLaughlin was going on the assumption it was 60 days after he appeared before the board, it was still a day late, since he had appeared May 29.