Imagine this: you buy or rent a property. It’s zoned appropriately retail. You have a unique product that is in demand because it’s sold in other retail locations. Yet, because of an archaic state law, you can’t sell your own product at your own location.
It doesn’t make sense to see lawmakers—state and federal – take the podium and advocate for small businesses when the red tape to run a business is enough to sink you before you even get started.
Yet this is what happens with liquor laws. What’s more surprising is that some of these laws were put into place as recently as 2008. Other laws on the books came fear of public drunkenness, bawdy crowds of drunkards and underground speakeasies. Basically laws were put into place to settle down the Temperance Movement to show some order will remain even though alcohol was no longer outlawed.
The demand for alcohol will always be there. My grandfather, who owned a speakeasy in Detroit, was almost killed by the Purple Gang to give up his bootlegged liquor (bootlegged by my great-grandfather) and his popular drinking spot. He was saved when a member of the gang noticed his curled-in hands from a car accident. They gang members respected my grandfather for supporting his family as “a cripple” and left him alone.
Today, yes, you can buy alcohol almost everywhere. Most restaurant owners will tell you that they make more money at their business by not just selling good food, but alcohol to go along with it.
Micro-distilleries are the hip thing. Brewers of craft beers have always been popular. The push of the “buy local” movement isn’t just about buying from a local retail store instead of Wal-Mart, yet spending your money on local products with ingredients that are unique to the area of the country.
Yet, it’s not easy to just sell your product. In Franklin County, for example, there is a liquor license that allows businesses that produce up to 10,000 gallons of liquor a year to sell at their production sites. Sounds good, but only one license is allowed for a county with populations over 800,000 – which leaves just three in the state with this license. In Franklin County, Middle West Spirits LLC, the company that makes OYO brand vodkas and whiskey, hold that license.
Instead of celebrating being the only licensee in one county, Middle West Spirits LLC is working with another company, Watershed Distillery, makers of vodka and gin, to help create change in the state.
Brady Konya, co-owner of Middle West Spirits LLC, is hopeful that liquor laws they can help affect change, yet there is so much red tape to move the needle for the industry.
“We need a better structure to make business profitable. Period.” Konya said. “Less than 5 percent of our sales are at the distillery.”
There is some relief in Ohio House Bill 243, which would get rid of restrictions on licensees. Believe it or not, in 2008 lawmakers created this A-3a liquor license that includes such restrictions.
Konya and his business partner Ryan Lang, along with Watershed Distillery, hope that showing support for such a bill get the attention of lawmakers who may not always see or understand how such restrictions prohibit the growth of and creation of small businesses, mostly micro-distilleries, in the state.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Casey Kozlowski, R-Pierpont and co-sponsored by Rep. Ron Young, R-Leroy Township, passed the House of Representatives in June and has had two committee hearings in the Senate.
“I believe craft distillers will be expanding in coming years and the state needs to be ready to capitalize on that to create jobs and promote business,” Kozlowski told Columbus Business First.
But this bill also involves other changes that are, quite simply, baffling. H.B. 243. There are pages and pages of old laws that make the simple act of handing out a sample almost impossible.
Business by non-Ohio natives who WANT to be here
It’s worth noting that some companies, mainly Middle West Spirits LLC, come to Ohio for the unique flavor available here. OYO products contain all Ohio-grown soft red winter wheat, which has basically been used for Oreo cookies and refined and bleached and put into cookie and cake mixes.
Middle West did it’s research, liked the flavor of unrefined soft red winter wheat, and built a business in the country’s number one state for growing this type of wheat.
It’s going to be a long road to show lawmakers how laws actually stop business from being conducted in Ohio at distilleries and wineries because it seems many sectors are fighting for their own rights.
If any administration wants to make true change, try re-writing the laws to take us out one century and into this one, especially as jobs and industry are scarce and opportunities to start a business that will succeed are hampered by dusty, old laws written by leaders wearing top hats and tails.
Natalie Walston is CEO of The Walston Group, LLC, a public relations firm that works on government relations issues for Middle West Spirits, LLC.