Overview. How to get a Liquor Store License in New York
There are two main liquor license categories in New York State:
- On-premises: allows for sale and consumption of liquor, wine, beer and cider, as the case may be, inside the premises.
- Off-premises: allows for sale of liquor, wine and cider, as the case may be, for consumption outside the premises.
The NY liquor store license belongs to the second category (off-premises), and allows the sale of all kinds of alcoholic beverages, such as liquor, wine and cider, except beer. A wine store license, instead, allows to sell wine and cider, but no liquors or beer.
The licensing review process is administered by the New York State Liquor Authority (SLA), which also approves license renewals, upgrades, corporate changes and other amendments to the initial application. Also, the SLA is responsible for investigating violations and enforcing the Alcoholic Beverage Control Law, a/k/a ABC Law.
Things to keep in mind when opening a liquor store in New York City
When you look for a location for your liquor store, make sure that:
- There are no churches, places of worship or schools within 200 feet of the store, on the same street (see below re: 200-Foot Rule)
- There are not too many liquor stores in the interested area.
200 Foot Rule
The 200 Foot Rule applies to all licenses to sell liquor for on-site consumption (restaurants, pubs and bars) and to sell liquor for off-site consumption (liquor stores). In addition, it applies to licenses to sell just wine and cider for off-site consumption (wine stores). It does not apply to restaurants and bars that sell only beer & wine.
According to this rule, no liquor or wine store license in New York (as well as full liquor license for wine and bars) may be issued if a church or a school is precisely within 200 feet of your location, such distance being measured in a straight line from entrance to entrance. The school or place or worship needs to be on the same street for the 200 Foot Rule to actually apply. If your location (or the school or place of worship) is on a corner lot between two different streets, both streets need to be taken into consideration.
If the building is not exclusively used as a church or a school, the rule does not apply. Typically, the building will still be considered a school or place of worship as long as any additional use is incidental to, and not inconsistent with, the use of the building as a school or place of worship.
Keep in mind that this is not a discretionary rule. Should the above conditions exist, SLA has no other option but enforce the 200 Foot Rule, disapproving your application.
If there are churches or schools within 200 feet of your location and you are not sure if the building is used exclusively for such purpose, you have a few options:
- Check on the SLA mapping project (LAMP) to see if that building is listed as a school or church on the map http://lamp.sla.ny.gov/nysla/index.htm
- Check with your community board, if applicable, most likely in New York City.
- Conduct your own research.
500 Foot Rule
The 500 foot rule does not apply to liquor or wine stores, but only to restaurants and bars serving liquor. However, for sake of comprehensiveness we will briefly touch upon it.
Pursuant to this rule, the Authority should refrain from issuing a retail license for the on-site consumption of liquor to any location which is within 500 feet of three establishments that are currently operating with on-premises liquor licenses (OP). However, the application of this rule is discretionary, meaning that it can be overcome if a specific public interest is proven.
The New York State Liquor Authority when determining whether or not a “public interest” exists will consider the following: (i) type of establishment (restaurant or bar or pub etc.), (ii) number, classes and types of businesses licensed within 500 feet of the proposed establishment; (iii) applicants’ prior violations or complaints at same or other establishments; (iv) issues relating to quality of life in the neighborhood, such as anticipated increased traffic, parking problems and increased noise level.
To get a better understanding of the 200 Foot Rule, the 500 Foot Rule and the way they apply to liquor stores, restaurants, pubs and bars selling liquor (but remember, not to liquor stores) check out our post New York Liquor License FAQs Part 1.
Other existing Liquor Stores
The ultimate decision on your liquor store application is made by the Liquor Authority at a full board meeting, based on a finding that the new license would provide public convenience or advantage. As a part of such review, the board considers whether the area is adequately served by a sufficient number of liquor stores. For this reason, oppositions from other liquor stores already existing and operating in the interested area are most likely to be expected. A good argument to overcome oppositions is to prove that your liquor store is going to provide different products than those offered by existing licensees in the area.
How much does a liquor store license cost in New York City
As of 2020, the cost to hold a liquor store license in New York City (all boroughs except Staten Island) is $4,098 every 3 years. The first payment (plus a $200 one-time processing fee) must be submitted to the SLA upfront along with the initial application. If the license is disapproved, you will get refunded. Outside of New York City, the cost to run a liquor store sis considerably less: for instance the cost of a liquor store license in Suffolk County, Long Island, is $1,536 every three years. The cost for a wine store license in NYC is $1,920 every three years. See the NYSLA License Retail Fee Chart here.
Obtaining a liquor license for a liquor store, as well as for other types of establishments in New York City is a complicate process and many variables and downturns are to be expected. Opposition from the neighboring liquor stores – that are your competitors – is very much likely to happen and could lead to a rejection of your application. Therefore, stir away as much as you can from other liquor stores. Check thoroughly your neighborhood before committing to a long term commercial lease.
The best way to avoid that kind of scenario is to negotiate a contingency in the lease such as the following: if no liquor license is obtained then the lease is of no effect. You don’t want to get a lease signed and commit yourself to pay the rent for several years ahead before you know that your license is approved. Not all landlords would agree to this sort of contingency but it’s definitely worth a shot.
Steps to get your liquor store license in New York
- Check your block for school, churches and other existing liquor stores and consult an attorney to make a determination if a liquor store license in that area it’s worth pursuing
- Check if you have any sort of statutory disqualifications according to the ABC Law
- Negotiate and sign a lease agreement, possibly with a contingency whereby the deal does not go through if you your license application gets disapproved
- Apply for your liquor store license with the SLA, providing all the required documentation
- Attend the SLA board meeting where your application will be reviewed and a decision on your license will be issued
For a more general and comprehensive guide on the liquor license application process in New York, you can check our post: How to Get a Liquor License in New York.
Can I buy an existing liquor store?
Yes, a liquor store can be purchased but that will not include a transfer of the current liquor license from the seller to the buyer. A brand new application will be required. Generally, you will have to wait for your license to be approved before starting to sell alcohol at your liquor or wine store, but if you are buying a liquor store, under certain conditions you can obtain a temporary license at SLA’s discretion for no longer than 90 days.
Other things to keep in mind when opening a liquor store
- If you are planning to open a liquor store in NYC, you are not required to notify your local community board as it would be the case for on-premises licenses
- Vendors: you can buy alcoholic beverages only from wholesalers licensed in New York State or from private collections
- No more than one liquor store can be owned by a single person or company
- If you hold a liquor store license, you are allowed to operate as many restaurants or bars as you wish
- You are not allowed to hold a direct or indirect interest both in a wholesaler or manufacturer business (whichever state it is located) and in a NY liquor store at the same time (Tied House Law)
- ABC Law imposes strict citizenship requirements for all sorts of liquor licenses: in short, you need to be an American citizen, or a green card or EAD holder, or a E-Visa holder, in other to be eligible for any kind of liquor license in New York State. Check our post How to Get a Liquor License in New York and the SLA Advisory Opinion 2015-21 on this topic
- ABC Law also imposes additional statutory requirements: age 21 or older, no police officer, no criminal records
- Hours of operation: typically liquor stores may sell alcohol from 9AM to midnight, except on Sundays, when alcohol can be sold only from 12PM to 9PM. No alcohol can be sold on Christmas day. This does not apply to beer.
Applying for a liquor store license in New York is a complicated matter. Even a clerical mistake may result in your application being delayed or disapproved. It is therefore crucial to retain an experienced attorney to assist you and your company throughout the process of applying for a liquor store license in New York. Contact Bardazzi Law today to avoid risks and get your liquor store license approved.