By Josh Davis, Associate Editor
(Nov. 15, 2018) Public outcry of the Viking Tree Trading Company’s pursuit of a county liquor license was apparently too much, as the business owners on Wednesday said they would withdraw the controversial application.
Several residents objected to the proposal during a Berlin Town Council meeting on Tuesday night, with virtually all of the public comments being negative.
The new business, set to open next week, was applying for a Class B beer-wine-liquor license for its 114 North Main Street location, which had been home to a video store. Its owners, Bryan and Nicole Brushmiller, who also own Burley Oak Brewing Company and the Burley Cafe, bought the building last year.
Carol Rose, chairwoman of the Berlin Historic District Commission, was the first to speak. Rose said she speaking both as a resident and as the commission chair.
“It’s come to my attention that property at 114 North Main Street has applied for a Class B liquor license and the hearing is on Monday,” she said. “When the owner of that property came to the historic district commission, we were informed it was a retail shop with clothing and so forth and, as a citizen, I do not think that we need [another] bar on Main Street.”
Rose said the town already has several restaurants with bars and that Sisters, a retail store across the street on 113 North Main Street, “has a wine bar.” The official Facebook description for Sisters reads, “Boutique, Clothing, Children, Garden, Gourmet & Home Accents. A ‘Unique Shopping Experience’ where you can enjoy wine or beer while shopping!!”
“I’m just here to say that I don’t think it’s necessary,” she said. “If anybody else feels that way, the hearing is this Monday.”
Business owner Ernie Gerardi agreed.
“We have six restaurants that offer liquor service. Five of those have substantial offerings of food,” he said. “I think that a permit for liquor [in a retail store] is inappropriate and unnecessary within our town. I don’t think it really blends well. Just think if every retail store starts selling liquor – that would be very inappropriate.”
Jeremy Blackford, the general manager of the Burley Inn Tavern in Berlin (unaffiliated with Burley Oak), also opposed “the proposed liquor license going into a retail store.”
“I agree with them. I think another liquor license in this town – an already saturated town that has liquor licenses – would be just not needed,” he said. “We have restaurants, cafes [and a] brewery that can sustain the need and want for people to consume alcohol. I think having another outlet is just kind of overdoing it – it’s overkill.”
Summer Frederick added that she was “a little confused” about how a 1,300 square-foot building could include both “a retail shop and a 75-seat restaurant … with a 12-seat bar.”
“I read the liquor license [application] today,” she said. “I guess we’re just confused of where this space for 75 seats and 12 seats at a bar in a retail shop is going to fit into a 1,300 square-foot building. We just want answers about that.”
Nicole Brushmiller encouraged people to “talk to the owners.”
“I think what public perception is, versus [the] vision for this business, are not the same thing,” she said. “It is a small town and I don’t know why the communication stops and has gaps, but I would encourage everyone to talk to the owners and stop by,” Brushmiller added.
She said the shop plans to offer merchandise obtained by the family during its travels and adventures. That would include “some crafted drinks that they may see in their (own) adventures.”
“As far as a place that you’re out until 2 in the morning doing shots at? No,” she said. “If there is a retail shop where women can shop and have wine, then why can’t there be an experience for men to do the same?”
Brushmiller said anyone with questions could approach her or Bryan at any time in their businesses, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rose responded that she objected to the lack of communication.
“To the matter of communication, the matter is on you all’s end, because when the planning and zoning director went into the business, there was no mention of alcohol – or when they came to [the] historic district [commission],” she said. “We can play the tape. It was retail merchandise and items your husband and you found on your adventures.
“There was never, ever to anybody in this town [mention] about alcohol, beer, wine, bar, selling liquor – none of that. To anybody. Why not?” Rose asked.
“It’s not that it was intentional – it’s just evolving business creativity,” Brushmiller said.
“That’s not open communication,” Rose said.
“I’m telling you now, for the record, that wasn’t always the business plan when we started,” Brushmiller said. “It’s kind of evolved.”
Rose replied, “We look in the newspaper and see that you’re going to the liquor board for this Class B license, and nobody knows about it. Where’s the communication?”
Mayor Gee Williams sought to restore order and Councilman Thom Gulyas asked Town Attorney David Gaskill to briefly explain the liquor license process.
“What I want to explain to everyone is that they have a hearing on the 19th at 1:10 p.m. with board the board of licensing commissioners in Snow Hill. That board decides whether to or not to issue a liquor license to this establishment,” Gaskill said. “The Mayor and Council do not decide that issue.
“What the applicant will need to show, among other things, is that there is a public need for a license at that location to that board, because that is the legal standard that that board must decide is met before it can issues a license,” he continued. “Anyone who has an interest in it – I would urge you, if you feel strongly about, go to the hearing.”
Bryan Brushmiller had the last word on the topic during the meeting.
“I’d just like to say that I believe in abundance and that there’s enough for everyone. Anything that we do in the Town of Berlin is to benefit the town,” he said. “We are a town of tourism. We like to promote things that bring people to our town,” he said.
Brushmiller, on Wednesday, said he planned to table the request and forwarded a statement to the Gazette:
“We are surprised of the reaction of a few business people in town. As business owners ourselves, we are just trying to set the store up for success, create a unique experience and bring more people to our town. We are considering to table the license in order to give an opportunity to the community to come by and voice any concerns they may have regarding that business and see the vision that we have in mind for the space,” he said.
April Payne, administrator for the board of license commissioners, on Wednesday confirmed it was her understanding the applicant planned to withdraw the application, but that had not yet occurred.
The Worcester County Board of License Commissioners hearing was scheduled for Monday, Nov. 19 at 1 p.m. in the commissioners meeting room of the Worcester County Government Center on 1 West Market Street in Snow Hill.