For some, applying for a New York State liquor license can be one of the most stressful and frustrating parts of opening a business. Like so many government agencies in the Empire State, the New York State Liquor Authority is underfunded and understaffed, a recipe for slow processing and other inefficiencies. Then there is the poorly trained staff charged with the responsibility of dispensing information through the Call Center, often without any consideration for its accuracy. Procedures vary from one Zone Office to another, and even between Examiners in a single Zone Office. It’s like a personal triumph to get an application through without needing to resubmit the same documents or to respond to a laundry list of questions and deficiency demands.
Take the following email communication I had when I sent a question to [email protected], where we are directed to ask questions about licensing or permits, per the SLA website. I wrote:
I found this reference on the SLA website: “According to Section 260.21 of the Penal Law, persons under the age of 16 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian to enter an on premises establishment.” Are there any restrictions to this rule? Specifically, can a 16-year-old enter a restaurant, bar, or tavern unaccompanied by a parent or guardian? I can understand a restaurant, but I am not sure if this holds true for a bar or tavern. Please confirm.
In response, I received:
I suggest you read the entire section of law which will provide you with the exceptions.
Licensing Unit 6
Now, I understand that for an email coming from a law firm, an appropriate response might be to read the law – even though my signature line indicates that I am a paralegal and not an attorney educated in interpreting legal text. But can you image the average person trying to decipher it? Take a look:
§260.21 Unlawfully dealing with a child in the second degree. A person is guilty of unlawfully dealing with a child in the second degree when: 1. Being an owner, lessee, manager or employee of a place where alcoholic beverages are sold or given away, he permits a child less than sixteen years old to enter or remain in such place unless: (a) The child is accompanied by his parent, guardian or an adult authorized by a parent or guardian; or (b) The entertainment or activity is being conducted for the benefit or under the auspices of a non-profit school, church or other educational or religious institution; or (c) Otherwise permitted by law to do so; or (d) The establishment is closed to the public for a specified period of time to conduct an activity or entertainment, during which the child is in or remains in such establishment, and no alcoholic beverages are sold, served, given away or consumed at such establishment during such period. The state liquor authority shall be notified in writing by the licensee of such establishment, of the intended closing of such establishment, to conduct any such activity or entertainment, not less than ten days prior to any such closing; or 2. He marks the body of a child less than eighteen years old with indelible ink or pigments by means of tattooing; or 3. He sells or causes to be sold tobacco in any form to a child less than eighteen years old. It is no defense to a prosecution pursuant to subdivision three of this section that the child acted as the agent or representative of another person or that the defendant dealt with the child as such. Unlawfully dealing with a child in the second degree is a class B misdemeanor.
If the SLA is going to provide a resource for the average person to ask questions about licensing and staying in compliance, then these types of answers are unacceptable and, quite frankly, lazy. Applying for the privilege of a liquor license does not have to be the “us vs. them” situation that so many SLA employees exhibit. Working together and educating the public on the lesser-known intricacies of application processing and compliance will lead to more transparent application and more efficient processing. What wrong with a little more effort for a win-win situation?