• Columbia bars fold in face of liquor license challenges

    Updated:
    COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - Bars that cater to University of South Carolina students are closing as neighbors challenge their liquor licenses.

    The State reports homeowners around Columbia's Five Points neighborhood, complaining about drunken students, have challenged the liquor license renewals of eight bars. The neighbors blame a dozen or so college bars, which generally open only at night, for students who trash their yards, endanger themselves and cause other mayhem

    Four have closed, and now bar owners and real estate agents say more bars are expected to shut down.

    State Sen. Dick Harpootlian, a Columbia Democrat, is representing the neighbors. They argue bars aren't selling enough food. Under South Carolina law, only hotels and restaurants that "primarily and substantially" sell food are allowed liquor licenses.

    One bar, Cover 3, withdrew its application after a manager testified that less than 1% of the bar's revenue came from food sales. Until that case, the South Carolina Department of Revenue had not considered food sales when issuing licenses. However, after a meeting between Gov. Henry McMaster, Harpootlian and revenue Director Hartley Powell, the department said it would consider food sales in the Cover 3 Case.

    It was a change in policy, said Chris Kenney, an attorney with Harpootlian's firm who argued the Cover 3 case.

    "The acid test now is are they really a restaurant," he said. "When you have no food sales it's going to make it tough to get a license."

    A department spokeswoman said that Kenney is overstating the policy change.

    "There is no new policy," spokeswoman Bonnie Swingle wrote in an email.

    Since a 2009 case, the department "has not requested information about the percentage of food sales versus alcohol sales from applicants," Swingle wrote.

    But she added that when the department learned Cover 3 sold so little food, it took the position that "food sales of less than 1% are not enough to satisfy the state's restaurant requirements."

    Commercial real estate broker Alex Waelde said the challenges could have effects on bars statewide.

    "Everybody in Five Points is jumping ship because of the Harpootlian thing," said Waelde, who is representing the owner of the building which housed Five Points Roost.

    The owners of two buildings on Harden Street that host college bars said they are selling their property.

    "There are going to be a lot of empty buildings down there," said Jimmy Knight. "We're going to put that building on the market," he said. "We don't want to wait around until all these places go dark and everything gets dumped on the market at the same time."

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    Information from: The State, http://www.thestate.com

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