Retailers – those selling beer, wine, and spirits directly to consumers – are not licensed by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB); rather, that responsibility falls to states and sometimes county or city governments. New wine retail businesses face many hurdles on the path to opening day. While some concerns arise with respect to local zoning laws (discussed briefly at the end of this post), in California, most of those hurdles are part of the ABC license application process.

Since 1994, the number of available off-premises licenses has been limited based on the population of each county. The limit was set at one license per 2,500 residents; for counties already exceeding their limit, no new licenses could issue and existing licenses that were surrendered would not be reissued until the county was within the limit.  The limits were adopted based on the belief that there was a relationship between high crime rates and an over-concentration of liquor stores in certain urban areas.

If a business is able to apply for an ABC license for a location that is not currently licensed, they must complete several steps before their application will be processed. First, a Notice of Intent to Sell Alcoholic Beverages must be mailed to all residential addresses within 500 feet. Second, a poster announcing the intention to sell alcohol on the premises must be posted near the entrance of the establishment for thirty days, and finally, the applicant must publish notice of its intent to sell alcohol at the location in the local newspaper. The local ABC office also notifies local law enforcement, city and county planning boards, as well as the county board of supervisors or city council where the business is located, of the application. Anyone – not just the residents who receive a notice in the mail or public officials – can lodge a written protest to the application with the ABC. An ABC employee will investigate the applicant and any protests received in determining whether or not to issue the new license.

Almost all new licenses that do issue will come with standard conditions for the area and type of business, and often additional conditions specific to concerns raised about the particular location. Failure to understand and comply with these conditions could be grounds for revocation of the ABC license.

As mentioned above, in addition to licensing concerns, new wine shops may also need to consult local zoning ordinances to determine if there are any regulations that would affect their new business’s ability to sell alcohol. In California, each city and county is required to have a zoning code regulating land use within their jurisdiction, which must be consistent with the city or county’s general plan. ┬áBecause zoning ordinances are set by local government, business owners should review the ordinances where their business is located and/or consult an attorney regarding what is required before starting their new business in addition to obtaining the proper ABC license.


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