A former manager surrendered the Corner Pocket’s liquor license Monday, averting legal proceedings and setting in motion a family’s plans to reopen the downtown Portage bar and grill in May.
Kelly Vandermark, who had been operating the Corner Pocket until he closed it down Feb. 13, surrendered his Class B combination liquor license to the city’s Legislative and Regulatory Committee, which oversees which businesses can sell alcohol.
“It went the way we wanted it to,” property owner Mark Bellmore said, adding that his family might be able to reopen during the first week of May. “He (Vandermark) turned in the license, which speeds things up.”
Bellmore, who wants to reopen the Corner Pocket with the help of his daughter Kelly Bellmore, is applying to reacquire the liquor license in hopes of re-establishing the bar’s place in downtown Portage.
Bellmore said community members have been asking him every day when the Corner Pocket will reopen.
“My daughter can’t wait to get back in there and bring it back to where it was a year ago,” Bellmore said. “We’re getting closer to opening. We’ve done a lot of work down there.”
The earliest the Corner Pocket could reopen is May 9, Portage City Clerk Marie Moe said, noting that scenario would depend on how quickly local officials are able to complete the process of handling applications and reissuing the license.
The application process started Monday night and would remain open for the next 15 days after, Moe said.
Moe said the city currently has 26 liquor licenses in use.
Portage has 30 authorized Class B combination licenses, which allow beer or liquor to be sold and consumed on site, she said. Most bars and restaurants have a Class B liquor license.
With the Corner Pocket’s liquor license now surrendered, a total of four reserve licenses are available to be issued, she said. A single business can only use one liquor license for a specific premises.
Corner Pocket’s recent closure involves ongoing disputes after the property owner served Vandermark an eviction notice over disagreements about the lease. There have been no criminal charges or formal civil suits filed related to the disputes.
Before Vandermark surrendered the liquor license with no contest Monday, the city was pursing legal action to revoke his license.
Vandermark said he had planned to drop the license off at the Portage Municipal Building on prior occasions but was too busy. He said he’s only owned one bar and is unfamiliar with the legal procedures of liquor licensing.
Mayor Rick Dodd said since he became involved with city government in 2005, this was the first time he was aware of the city considering revocation of a liquor license.
“It’s kind of the last resort in order to get that license back,” Dodd said.
Moe said whenever a person with a liquor license closes that business, city ordinances as written state that the liquor license must be turned in “immediately.”
Dodd said he believes the city generally waits up to 30 days before considering legal action. The process of revoking a liquor license can stretch up to 60 days, depending partly on when various city government bodies can meet.
“We don’t have many problems, which is nice,” said Mike Charles, chairman of the Legislative and Regulatory Committee, which oversees the local steps to issuing liquor licenses.
Last week, Dodd spoke to Bellmore and noted his frustration with the slow process of revoking a liquor license, which is dictated by state law.
“The city cannot pre-empt state law on this,” Moe said.
Dodd said he told Bellmore he would speak to two state lawmakers about possibly requesting a legislative change.
Bellmore said Moe, Dodd and other local officials are “good, good people who bend over backwards” to help citizens, but he believes the law “could absolutely be amended” and that responsibility for revoking liquor licenses should be handled solely by municipal governments.
He said he doesn’t understand why a family who previously owned the bar for eight years couldn’t more quickly return to serving loyal customers and seemed caught in the middle of bureaucracy.
“I’m sure there’s a good reason for the timing, I just don’t know what it is,” Dodd said.