How to Obtain a Liquor License

By J.W. Carpenter , last updated July 5, 2011
If you wish to sell alcoholic beverages to individual customers at retail, you first need to obtain a liquor license from your local liquor control authority. Such licenses are typically administered at the city level. However, licensing requirements vary from state to state, and, indeed, from city to city. Therefore it is very important that you contact your local liquor control authority early in the planning stages of your business so that you know clearly what is expected of you and what the local licensing requirements demand. Read on to learn the basic steps you must complete to obtain a liquor license in most areas.
The Licensing Authority
As mentioned, in most states liquor licenses are administered at the city level, according to city administrative rules. Your city’s liquor control authority may have its own office or it may be a part of a general business affairs bureau or business licensing department. In some cases, liquor licensing is administered by the city clerk. For help in identifying your city’s liquor control authority, visit your City Hall, the local police station, the Chamber of Commerce, or a local business development center.
Once you have located the licensing authority, pay a visit to obtain personalized advice. Ask about the different types of licenses available and the requirements for those licenses that cover your needs. Be sure to collect all available documents, including applications and instruction sheets. In many cases, you can obtain legal information pamphlets detailing the finer points of the local and state liquor control laws.
Common Licensing Procedures
First, you need to select the appropriate license for your type of business. Though details depend on local law, most liquor licenses are specialized for one of several uses. The first type of liquor license generally authorizes sale of beer and other malt beverages for consumption off the retail premises. This license is usually taken by convenience stores and groceries. A second type of license authorizes beer, wine, and liquor sales for consumption off the retail premises. A third and fourth type of license match the first two, respectively, but provide for on-premises consumption instead. These license are designed for restaurants, taverns, and bars. Other types of liquor licenses may be available under your city’s regulations.
Once you have identified the specific license you require, study the application documents and related legal materials carefully. In many cases, you must have a legally established business in a properly zoned location before you can even submit a liquor license application. You may have to provide official proof of proper zoning for liquor sales along with your application. In some cases, license applicants are required to take a course on responsible serving of alcoholic beverages.
Liquor license applications commonly require several months for processing. In some locations, the first step in processing an application is placement of a Notice of Application in several issues of a local newspaper. This grants an opportunity to the community to express disagreement with either the applicant or the applicant’s business location. Once the application has been approved, you are typically free to sell liquor as the license allows.
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