Schuler Books Seeks License To Sell Liquor

June 23, 2008
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GRAND RAPIDS — City commissioners will decide soon whether Schuler Books and Music can begin serving beer and wine at its downtown location.

Bill and Cecile Fehsenfeld, owners of the local independent bookstore chain with five locations, have applied for a special Class C liquor license that is only available to qualifying businesses in development districts.

Members of the Downtown Development Authority recently approved their request, and now the Fehsenfelds need city commissioners and the state’s Liquor Control Commission to do the same.

“We are trying to build traffic to the store and make it a destination,” Cecile Fehsenfeld told the DDA. “It’s simply going to be a way to enhance the experience at the bookstore.”

The downtown Schuler Books is located at 40 Fountain St. NW, on the ground floor of the former Steketee’s Department Store building. Fehsenfeld said they would like to offer customers a glass of beer or wine at literary and musical events the store regularly hosts, such as this Friday’s appearance of folk singer Robin Lee Barry.

“It’s a way to remain competitive,” she said. “Our emphasis is on beer and wine.”

Fehsenfeld said the store’s weekend hours could be extended if a license is approved to serve the crowds that attend events at Van Andel Arena, DeVos Performance Hall and other downtown spots.

The store is currently open until 8 p.m. on Fridays and 5 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.

“A number of community members have expressed an interest in the sale of beer and wine at our downtown Grand Rapids location. This additional option will enable us to remain competitive with the well-established businesses in the downtown development district,” said Fehsenfeld.

The license the Fehsenfelds are seeking is known as the Redevelopment Liquor License. State lawmakers created it two years ago for dining, entertainment and recreation businesses in developments districts, such as downtowns.

The city’s policy, which commissioners established in March 2007, gives restaurants the highest priority for a license. Schuler Books has a café in its downtown store.

To qualify, a business has to have room for at least 50 customers, prove that it couldn’t buy a license on the open market, or show that one wasn’t available for sale. Then a business has to verify it has invested a minimum of $75,000 in its building over the past five years, or pledge that it will invest at least that amount over the next five years.

An RRL costs $20,000, or about a quarter of what an escrowed Class C license sells for on the open market. Unlike a Class C, though, an RRL can’t be transferred.

Two downtown businesses have applied for and been approved for the special license so far: Ritz Koney Island at 64 Ionia Ave. SW, and Big O’s Café at 80 Ottawa Ave. NW.

“In addition to the relaxing reading atmosphere of the bookstore,” said Fehsenfeld, “we believe that the availability of spirits will add to the mood of conviviality in the evening, especially complementing music and literary events.”

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