Licensing in Wisconsin
In Wisconsin, an alcohol retail license is a privilege granted by a municipality to a specific person, partnership, or corporation, to sell and/or serve alcohol beverages to customers at a specific location. Wisconsin municipalities (cities, villages, and towns) decide who will get alcohol retail licenses and who will not. The best time to deny a license application or to place conditions on a license is with the first application. While there are many important considerations in licensing alcohol establishments, contrary to popular beliefs, alcohol licenses do not equal economic development. In fact, having a high number of alcohol establishments in a community or in part of a community can cause more law enforcement calls, increase health costs, and therefore strain tight budgets. These issues should be considered before granting licenses.
Applying Licensing Conditions
Municipalities (cities, villages, and towns) can grant or deny alcohol licenses. But municipal power to control how alcohol is sold and served doesn’t stop there. License conditions are some of the most effective tools that a municipality can use to ensure that the licensee follows the community’s standards. The governing board of a municipality (e.g., city council, village board, town council) or its alcohol license review committee can attach conditions to the license to ensure public health and safety. For example, there may be circumstances where noise, trash, or too many entrances and exits can be of concern, or more serious issues such as repeated violence or sales to youth under the drinking age. These can be addressed in the conditions attached to the license.
The best time to consider conditions is with the first application for a license. At that time applicants are often very willing to make reasonable compromises in order to get the alcohol license. Once a license is granted, the municipality cannot unilaterally attach license conditions. However, if problems arise after a license has been granted, it may be possible to persuade a licensee to agree to new license conditions as an alternative to a nonrenewal or revocation in order to remedy problems such as a high number of failed minimum legal drinking age compliance checks, neighbor complaints about loud amplified music, or multiple police calls for violence associated with the business.
If a community hasn’t been using conditions, we strongly urge your community to consider doing so and the Wisconsin Alcohol Policy Project is happy to provide technical assistance and training in this area.
Licensing Conditions (PDF)
License conditions provide the ability to set narrow controls on how an alcohol licensee operates, as described in this brief summary by the Wisconsin Alcohol Policy Project.