Council approves liquor license for nontraditional business

By: Joshua Gordon | Woodward Talk | Published January 25, 2016

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FERNDALE — With an ever-growing downtown district, the Ferndale City Council approved a liquor license for the Rust Belt Market, 22801 Woodward Ave., in hopes of contributing to the growth of a business that cultivates other business owners in the area.

The Rust Belt Market, which has been open for nearly five years at the corner of Woodward and West Nine Mile Road, is home to about 50 businesses who use the space to set up shop and sell their products, from pictures to jewelry and food.

About two and a half years ago, the market added an event space in the middle of the building, a space that has been used for numerous private and public events, including public forums and a State of the City address by Mayor Dave Coulter.

Co-owner Chris Best said vendors have had to get temporary liquor licenses to have alcohol at their events.

“We realize that Ferndale is rife with bars and restaurants and the parking system is taxed a couple nights a week, but what we have been doing and how we have been operating with an event space is not really going to change a whole lot with a liquor license in place,” Best said.

“We are sensitive to the parking issue, and we will try to use valet and shuttle services to not further tax the system, and we hope to do more events during the week when the system is not taxed as much.”

Council unanimously approved the redevelopment class C liquor license Jan. 11, and the request will go to the Michigan Liquor Control Commission for final approval.

According to City Clerk Marne McGrath, Best met with the Liquor License Review Committee in October of last year, and the Ferndale Downtown Development Authority board reviewed it in December. Both parties requested that the City Council approve the license.
The request going to the DDA board falls under a new policy that was set in place in August 2015 that gives the DDA board a chance to review and pass its recommendation on liquor licenses to council, which has the final approval.

DDA Executive Director Barry Hicks said that in discussions with Best, it was clear that the Rust Belt would not change the way it operates, and if it does, council would have the opportunity to revoke the liquor license — terms that Best agreed were fair.

“They have a business plan, and basically they will continue to do what they are doing right now,  with the only difference being the ability to offer liquor licenses in house,” Hicks said. “They plan to continue to operate under the business plan as submitted, and if anything changes in that business plan, like it turns into a nightclub, council would have the ability to go back and revoke that liquor license.”

Councilman Greg Pawlica said he doesn’t feel parking will be an issue for the Rust Belt, as the business is established for shopping and events. And while he did vote in favor of the approval, he said he has concerns about opening an avenue to other nontraditional businesses requesting liquor licenses in the future.

“People have been saying there are too many establishments that serve liquor, with bars and restaurants, and this is not a bar or restaurant, but a completely different model,” Pawlica said. “My concern is if we go down this road and let this type of establishment serve liquor, where does it stop? Does a shoe store come and say they want to start to serve liquor? Are we setting a precedent?”

Councilwoman Melanie Piana, however, said the Rust Belt is a unique model in the city and felt that helping the business to grow was in the best interest of the community.

“They are an unconventional business model, and I think that is something we have honored and supported and celebrated with the Rust Belt for the last five years,” Piana said. “I also think we have something special, as the Rust Belt Market is a retail incubator with 50 businesses who are looking to establish themselves in a retail space and working with the Rust Belt owners to figure out how to grow their business.

“Like any entrepreneur, the Rust Belt is trying to figure out how to grow their business.”

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