Bar owners urge state regulator for relief on liquor license renewals

Bars in Florida remain closed since June 26

Bars and breweries face a new hurdle as they continue to struggle due to Florida’s current COVID-19 rules, which keep many of those places closed.

ORLANDO, Fla. – Bars and breweries face a new hurdle as they continue to struggle due to Florida’s current COVID-19 rules, which keep many of those places closed.

News 6 has learned letters from the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation were sent out to bar owners throughout Central Florida as part of the annual liquor license renewal process.

Aaron Dudek, who was among those who received a letter, co-owns three bars in the downtown Orlando area: The Lodge, The Woods and Burton’s in Thornton Park.

“Every year you need to renew that license with the state,” he explained. “They don’t really tell you why; you need to renew it and it’s around $1,800. It’s not a big deal when you’re open, it’s just another expense.”

However, with business closed for around 140 days and counting, Dudek told News 6 liquor license renewal fees can add up without any revenue coming in. He said the issue came up this past Sunday when the state’s top business regular, Halsey Beshears, hosted a private meeting with dozens of bar owners in Orange County.

“When you’ve been closed for almost half the year, we were hoping they would at least postpone it, give us a few months to catch up,” Dudek said. “(Beshears) mentioned that on Sunday. Three days later, we get it in the mail.”

A spokesperson with the DBPR told News 6 the private meeting was part of a process to gather input on reopening plans for bars, which were closed down on June 26.

"Secretary Beshears met with groups of local brewery owners and groups of local bar owners in a series of meetings hosted in Jacksonville (07.31.2020), Tallahassee (08.01.2020), Pensacola (08.02.2020), Tampa-St. Petersburg (08.03.2020), Ft. Myers (08.04.2020), Key West (08.13.2020), Indian River County (08.14.2020), Brevard County (08.14.2020), Seminole County (08.15.2020), Orange County (08.16.2020) and other locations on subsequent dates to be determined," a spokesperson said in an email. "The meetings are intended to provide a forum for Secretary Beshears to listen to the ideas and concerns of licensed business owners in considering opportunities for breweries, bars, and related establishments to reopen safely through a cooperative approach to shaping and sustaining a responsible path forward."

Justin Sullivan, a liquor license holder with The V Group, which owns several establishments including Novelty at 101, Room 22, Vyce and Side Bar, told News 6 he brought up the renewal issue personally with Beshears last week.

“I am confident that I represent a large amount of (liquor license) holders when I say we need, at minimum, this extended to the end of the year,” he said. “I would personally ask for this to be waived all together or pro-rated against the closed months. $1,820 is a lot of money when you have lost over a million in revenue since March. Our group holds three of them and adding over $5,000 to next month’s books is going to make a tough situation even worse.”

Dudek told News 6 he’s not sure if he plans to pay it or wait for a possible late fees, as he continues to wait for the state’s reopening plan for bars.

“We all know it’s coming at some point,” he said. “We just don’t know when.”

According to a DBPR spokesperson, alcoholic beverage licenses expire Sept. 30 for vendors and distributors in the following counties:

  • Alachua, Baker, Bay, Bradford, Calhoun, Citrus, Clay, Columbia, Dixie, Duval, Escambia, Franklin, Gadsden, Gilchrist, Gulf, Hamilton, Hernando, Hillsborough, Holmes, Jackson, Jefferson, Lafayette, Lake, Leon, Levy, Liberty, Madison, Marion, Nassau, Okaloosa, Orange, Osceola, Pasco, Pinellas, Putnam, St. Johns, Santa Rosa, Seminole, Sumter, Suwannee, Taylor, Union, Wakulla, Walton and Washington.

Vendors and distributors these counties receive their annual renewal letters in the winter/spring, with a deadline of March 31:

  • Brevard, Broward, Charlotte, Collier, Miami-Dade, DeSoto, Flagler, Glades, Hardee, Hendry, Highlands, Indian River, Lee, Manatee, Martin, Monroe, Okeechobee, Palm Beach, Polk, St. Lucie, Sarasota and Volusia.

News 6 reached out to the DBPR about reopening and possible plans to extend those licenses since bars remain closed.

A spokesperson acknowledged the questions, however, they have not formally responded.

Several bar owners News 6 spoke with said they’re looking at starting to serve food, whether they want to or not, as a means to speed up their reopening.

This all comes as the DBPR prepares for another round in it’s “Quota Beverage License Drawing.”

According to a recent release:

According to the DBPR website, 20 licenses in Central Florida are available as part of the drawing.

To learn more, click or tap here.

About the Author:

It has been an absolute pleasure for Clay LePard living and working in Orlando since he joined News 6 in July 2017. Previously, Clay worked at WNEP TV in Scranton, Pennsylvania, where he brought viewers along to witness everything from unprecedented access to the Tobyhanna Army Depot to an interview with convicted double-murderer Hugo Selenski.