200 Raleigh businesses are waiting for the city to approve their beer and wine licenses

About one in three businesses that applied for a beer and wine license from the city of Raleigh this year had not received one as of Thursday morning, despite a new online process intended to be more efficient

Businesses that sell beer and wine in Raleigh must have a beer and wine license and must renew it annually by April 30.

The city has received more than 600 license applications this year and issued about 400 as of Thursday morning, said David Fitzgerald, the city's revenue services manager.

The remaining 200 were expected to be approved by the end of the day, he said – two days after the deadline.

Starting this year, companies could no longer submit their applications by post, but had to use an online application.

“The new process is much more efficient,” Fitzgerald said, “but because it is a new implementation, the initial issuance of licenses took a little longer.”

“We have staff assisting license applicants over the phone and will continue to do so until all applications have been submitted and issued,” he said.

What happens if a license is delayed?

Nick Walters, co-owner of The Pour House in downtown Raleigh, said he received his license Wednesday, but only after hours of calling the city and finally going to the city office in person.

“Last Thursday I probably spent two hours on the phone just trying to get in touch with someone and kept getting passed on,” he said. “And then just having to leave work for the day when I had meetings and all the things that go into making sure I can conduct business in a legal capacity that day, that just wasn't supposed to be like that.”

Walters expressed his frustration on social media and said afterward that he had heard from other business owners who still didn't know if they had been approved and didn't know if they should take the risk of opening their businesses.

“It’s a risk,” he said. “Do we open up and hope that the city takes care of this matter? Or do we close because we don’t want to risk incurring fines and fees and possible license revocation that is a byproduct of licenses not being available and issued.”

Walters was told that since he paid, he could provide his receipt to the ABC Commission or Liquor Law Enforcement Agency, but he said they must have a printed copy of that license.

“I don’t understand why the city can’t give us a clear answer as to why our permits aren’t being issued, why we’re not able to provide some level of transparency or at least communication,” he said. “A message through the portal said, ‘Hey, we were late, but you guys are good. “Don’t worry, everything’s fine,” would have been at least the bare minimum they could have done.

“But we didn’t even understand that,” he said. “And honestly, I felt like I was being treated like some sort of rabble-rouser for going into the office and talking about it.”

Tax, no permit

According to the city's website, all existing and new licensees were required to create an online account and apply online for each business location.

Once a company submits an application and pays the fee, it receives a license, Fitzgerald said. Businesses can now obtain a printable license through the online portal instead of waiting for the city to mail it out.

The city typically receives about 900 license applications each year, with about 20 to 25 percent arriving after the deadline. Renewal notices will be sent in April.

Walters said The Pour House received a notice of renewal on April 7 and completed its application on April 12.

Raleigh's beer and wine license is a tax, not a permit to sell beer and wine, which is regulated by the state through the Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission.

“An applicant is not in violation if they have submitted a valid application but have not been issued a printable license,” Fitzgerald said.

According to the city, licenses cost between $5 and $15, depending on whether beer and wine are sold for on-site consumption or to-go.

Anna Harden

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