Local restaurant owners ask for relief from liquor license fees as deadline looms

Hit hard by COVID-19 restrictions, bar and restaurant owners say the state could do more to help.

Local restaurant owners ask for relief from liquor license fees as deadline looms - clipped version

LAKEWOOD, Ohio (WOIO) - Northeast Ohio restaurants and bars have until December 1 to renew their liquor licenses.

Now some owners are asking the state - in light of the increased pandemic restrictions - to reduce or wave the hefty fees they pay for that privilege.

Between a statewide curfew and a county stay-at-home advisory, business has changed, said Anthony Romano, owner and chef of Sarita, a restaurant in Lakewood.

“Last weekend was atrocious,” he said.

Romano said he recently sent a check for about $2,800 to the state to renew his liquor license, which - along with the licenses for other establishments in Northeast Ohio - expires on December 1st.

He said contacted the state liquor control division before sending the money, hoping the rules regarding the renewal fee would change.

But the agent told him to send in the check.

“He told me, ‘Yes. Send it in early because they’re going to be backed up,’” said Romano. “And if it wasn’t postmarked by November 15th, it was going to be considered late... I sent it in early because I didn’t want to get in any trouble.”

“I would love for them to send me that money back when they keep on changing the rules on us week to week,” said Romano.

Earlier this year, Governor DeWine extended the renewal deadline from October 1st for businesses in northeast Ohio counties which includes Cuyahoga, Lorain, Medina, and Summit.

The state is very aware that bars and restaurants are struggling, said Michael Gravely, a spokesperson for the Ohio Department of Commerce, which oversees the state Division of Liquor Control.

“Currently we are not charging any late fee for liquor establishments who can’t pay their fees on-time,” he wrote in an email.

But his agency doesn’t have the authority to collect fees or make changes to them. That falls to the legislature.

The governor signed a piece of legislation into law on Friday that may allow liquor permit holders to work with the state agency to reach an accommodation, he wrote. But what those accommodations might be won’t be fully understood until the law is vetted by their legal team.

The state also suggested owners look into the Bar and Restaurant Assistance Fund where some owners can receive up to $2,500 per individual business location.

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