Business

Hundreds of NC alcohol permits expire soon. Is your favorite bar on the list?

The deadline for ABC permit renewal is fast approaching, and nearly 100 businesses in Mecklenburg County haven’t paid their 2017 registration fees. Legion Brewing – where Chad Barnes, left, and Montell Watson enjoyed a couple of craft beers last year – paid its permit fees on time, so its taps will keep flowing.
The deadline for ABC permit renewal is fast approaching, and nearly 100 businesses in Mecklenburg County haven’t paid their 2017 registration fees. Legion Brewing – where Chad Barnes, left, and Montell Watson enjoyed a couple of craft beers last year – paid its permit fees on time, so its taps will keep flowing. jsimmons@charlotteobserver.com

Nearly 700 businesses that sell alcohol in North Carolina are waiting until the last minute to renew required ABC permits – a move that could bring law enforcement officers to their door and leave customers facing locked-down beer taps and liquor shelves.

“At the end of June, if they haven’t paid, we will shut them down,” said Chief Michael Crowley, head of law enforcement at Mecklenburg County’s ABC Board.

100+ businesses around Charlotte haven’t renewed ABC permits

Alcohol beverage control permits must be renewed annually in North Carolina, a process that includes businesses paying between $300 and $1,000 for each permit, depending on what is sold and whether alcohol is produced on-site.

Already, hundreds of bars, restaurants and gas stations across the state have seen their alcohol sales saved by a 60-day grace period granted by regulators with the North Carolina ABC Commission. State officials say the grace period is in place to help businesses stay current with ABC permits. Businesses were notified of the upcoming deadline in February.

Those that missed the annual May 1 deadline now have just a few more days to get permit renewal fee money and paperwork to the ABC Commission before risking having their permit temporarily invalidated. The affected establishments can re-apply for ABC permits but could face a delay in legally selling alcohol until the process is complete.

Renewal fees and new application fees are the same. For example, to sell beer for consumption on or off site, businesses are charged $400 annually. Mixed beverage or liquor permits cost $1,000 annually.

Under state law, ABC permits are required at places such as breweries, nightclubs, restaurants and retail stores. The list of businesses with ABC permits that have yet to be renewed this year can be found on the N.C. ABC Commission’s website.

Charlotte and Mecklenburg County have one of the highest number of businesses at risk of ABC enforcement action this year, with more than 100 businesses across the county already on a do-not-distribute list. Wake County has more than 70 businesses on the list.

The state ABC Commission compiles an annual list of businesses that miss the May 1 deadline and provides that list to alcohol suppliers and distributors, warning them not to deliver shipments until the business has renewed its permit.

Over the weekend, if these businesses haven’t renewed their permits, they could get a visit from an enforcement officer. Typically, ABC officials say nearly 500 ABC permits in North Carolina are canceled due to failure to renew.

Crowley says most local businesses make the list either because they fell behind in completing paperwork, needed more time to come up with the renewal fee money or went out of business recently and failed to notify the ABC Commission. In some cases, corporate offices are responsible for renewing permits at multiple chain stores or franchises, which can mean dozens of businesses are late.

A Charlotte Observer analysis of the soon-to-expire ABC permits in Mecklenburg County show at least 10 businesses have either closed up shop, such as the Rusty Rudder on Lake Norman, or moved locations and now have valid temporary permits, such as Lenny Boy Brewing.

The renewal application and payment can be done online. But Crowley says he knows of some businesses in Charlotte that have waited until the last minute and make a 2.5-hour drive to the ABC Commission in Raleigh to clear up permit issues before the grace period runs out.

Crowley and the Mecklenburg County ABC Board perform a range of alcohol enforcement and education duties, including permit enforcement and business inspections as well as investigating ABC law violations and sales to underage customers. The law enforcement officers have similar authority to city police or county deputies but focus primarily on ABC issues. One program, called “Operation Safe Streets,” puts ABC officers around Charlotte business districts to intervene before intoxicated people decide to drive.

ABC permit fees go into the state government’s general fund. Local ABC boards are responsible for operating liquor and spirit stores in all but one North Carolina county (Graham County is a “dry” county). Profits from those government-run stores benefit local police, schools and municipal budgets, as well as alcohol education and rehab work.

Last year, the state reported $24.3 million in permit application and renewal revenue.

Anna Douglas: 704-358-5078, @ADouglasNews

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