Booze News: Distilled in Room 215

A blog about the Baltimore City Liquor Board

What happened at the Liquor Board on March 16, 2017.

Written by Becky Witt

5:00 p.m.

I. Regular Items (New, Transfers, Expansions, Hardships and Violations):

Applicants Goitom Habtezghi & Robel Kidane
Business Name Shewelelei, LLC
Trading As Sun M Liquors
Address 2700 W. North Avenue
Type of License Class “A” Beer, Wine & Liquor License
Reason for hearing Application to transfer ownership.
Hearing notes

Mr. Peter Prevas told the commissioners that his clients are requesting the transfer of ownership and not location. Mr. Habtezghi will be the primary operator; he previously owned and operated a liquor store in Washington, DC for four years. He will employ one other person. His family is currently in Uganda, but they will be joining him in the United States soon. He testified that he knows some of the people who live near to the business.

Commissioner Moore asked Mr. Habtezghi why there are so many Eritreans who are applying for liquor licenses in Baltimore. He replied that Baltimore is a beautiful city for immigrants. He added that there is a US military base in Eritrea, so there is a ship route between Baltimore and Eritrea.

Result of hearing Approved
Vote tally Unanimous
Portions of state law cited in decision None
Other reasons given for decision None
Issues raised in audit present in this case or other issues observed None
Applicants Dale Whitehead, Harold Resnick, & Michael Dick
Business Name Engineering Society of Baltimore, Inc.
Trading As Engineer’s Club
Address 7-11 W. Mount Vernon Place
Type of License Class “C” Beer, Wine & Liquor License
Reason for hearing Request to add live entertainment.
Hearing notes

As the hearing began, Commissioner Moore jokingly wondered whether the commissioners should have to disclose all the times that they have been to the Engineer’s Club for parties. Commissioner Greenfield noted, “I got married there, but it didn’t work out.” Mr. Whitehead explained that he has been the Executive Director of the Club for fourteen years, and he has been on the license since 2003. Every time they fill out the license renewal form, they always tell the Board that they have live entertainment, which they’ve had since 1961. Apparently, the building does not have zoning for live music, however. Usually, the live entertainment is for weddings that are held at the club. They also host an artists in residence series with performance groups. They acquired a historic pipe organ recently as well, for concerts. They do have DJs. They’ve never had complaints about music from neighbors. The licensees have signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Mount Vernon Belvedere Association, and Mr. Whitehead submitted other letters of support.

The attorney for the organization, Barry Casanova, showed up to the hearing about halfway through.

Mr. Whitehead explained that he had tried to contact Mr. Geoffrey Veale, Zoning Administrator, for over ten months and had never received a response about whether his club was required to get zoning permission for live entertainment. Tom Akras, Deputy Executive Secretary of the Liquor Board, testified that Veale sent him an email stating that the use of the property for live entertainment had been going on since at least the 1960s. Because of the long term use, it was grandfathered in, so zoning is not an issue.

Result of hearing Approved
Vote tally Unanimous
Portions of state law cited in decision None
Other reasons given for decision None
Issues raised in audit present in this case or other issues observed None
Applicant John Reusing
Business Name Bad Decisions, Inc.
Trading As Bad Decisions
Address 1928 Fleet Street
Type of License Class “BD7” Beer, Wine & Liquor License
Reason for hearing Request for a hardship extension under the provisions of the Alcoholic Beverages Article § 12-2202.
Hearing notes

Mr. Stephan Fogleman proffered that Mr. Reusing had run a great bar for years at Bad Decisions when he decided to purchase Ostrowski’s Sausages. After the unrest, business went downhill. His customers were mostly elderly Polish people from Baltimore County, and they decided not to come anymore after April 2015. The sausage business closed. Because of these and other financial woes and entanglements, which Mr. Fogleman went through at length, Mr. Reusing has decided to sell his businesses, including this liquor license. Mr. Reusing operated another bar, called The Get Down, which was owned by another licensee. Under questioning by Commissioner Moore, Fogleman said that he “believed” that there was a management agreement between the licensee at the Get Down and Mr. Reusing.

Result of hearing Approved
Vote tally Unanimous
Portions of state law cited in decision None
Other reasons given for decision None
Issues raised in audit present in this case or other issues observed

This hearing bring us back to the Maryland Code, Alcoholic Beverages Article section 12-2202(b), which says: “The Board may grant [a hardship] extension if the Board finds after a hearing that existing hardship caused the closing or stopping of business operations.” It’s unclear what the “existing hardship” is that caused the closing or stopping of business operations. Though the story told by Mr. Fogleman is long and confusing, it seems that Mr. Reusing chose to close his bar and move to a new location, and there was no firm answer given about what the actual hardship in the case was, besides the fact that he bought a completely separate business that failed.

Applicants Jasvir Mavi and Damon Briscoe
Business Name Side Street, LLC
Trading As Side Street Lounge
Address 625-27 N. Glover Street
Type of License Class “BD7” Beer, Wine & Liquor License
Reason for hearing Application to transfer ownership and requesting delivery of alcoholic beverages.
Hearing notes

This hearing was a continuation of the previous week’s hearing. The current licensee, who are transferring the license to the applicants, submitted sales tax receipts that showed sales in April; he asked for a hardship extension in October, which could have been within 180 days of April. Mr. Melvin Kodenski, for the applicants, said that the licensee was open a couple weekends per month to keep the license alive for Mr. Mavi.

Commissioner Moore expressed confusion at the documents submitted to the Board. She noted that it looked like they were paying overdue taxes in April. Kodenski replied that the taxes paid were for alcohol purchased in the prior month. Chairman Matricciani said that the affidavit from the current owner, which was submitted to the Board, stated that he was only open sporadically in order to keep his license alive through the spring of 2016.

The landlord for the building testified that he would sometimes visit during the day to pick up rent and they seemed to be open occasionally in the spring of 2016.

Commissioner Moore concluded that there are three questions before the Board: (1) whether the license is unexpired (2) whether to approve the hardship extension filed by the current licensee and (3) whether to approve the transfer to the new applicant. There was no information provided to the Board about whether there was an undue hardship that caused the cessation of the business at the location. Moore said, “so basically the hardship is the inability to complete the transfer. … Okay.”

Result of hearing The license was declared to be unexpired. The hardship extension was granted. And the transfer of the license was approved to the applicant.
Vote tally Unanimous
Portions of state law cited in decision None
Other reasons given for decision None
Issues raised in audit present in this case or other issues observed

Licensees’ attorneys often claim that their hardship extension request is on the basis that their clients will lose a valuable asset if the Board does not grant the request. But this is circular logic and it is not based on the Maryland Code. The Code requires that the Board find that an EXISTING HARDSHIP caused the closing of the business or cessation of alcohol sales. It is logically impossible to argue that the potential loss of a valuable asset would cause a licensee to close his business. If anything, this potential loss would cause a licensee to keep his business open. This is not a valid hardship extension basis.

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