Liquor stores get OK for later hours

Grand Cayman’s Liquor Licensing Board has granted extended operating hours to multiple package stores, a stunning move illustrative of the alcohol regulator’s discretionary power.

On Saturday, Tortuga Rum Company President Robert Hamaty forwarded the Caymanian Compass an email from the board stating that his Governors Square store could now open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., instead of having to close at 7 p.m.

According to the email, the board chairman exercised his power under Section 13 of the Liquor Licensing Law to approve the variance to the Tortuga store’s license. The chairman’s decision is effective immediately, but will be subject to ratification by board members during their next quarterly meeting.

The approval came a week after the majority of board members walked out of their annual meeting, saying they would not be able to hear about a dozen applications by package stores for extended hours, due to allegations of conflicts of interest.

Longtime board chairman Mitchell Welds’ mother owns a package store in West Bay, while his son has a mobile bartending business. Board member Tammy Welds, who is Mr. Welds’ niece, recused herself from the Sept. 12 meeting for the same reasons. Additionally, board member Neil Bryington also stepped out of the meeting because he himself was applying for extended hours for his Premier Wine & Spirits store.

In all, there were 11 applications for extended hours from Tortuga, Premier, Liquor 4 Less, Big Daddy’s/Blackbeard’s/Cayman Distributors and Central Liquors. Because only two members of the five-person board remained, they did not have a quorum and could not consider those applications.

Mr. Hamaty said everyone whose applications for extended hours were deferred had their requests granted, describing the board chairman’s decision as an “interesting and strange move.”

The Caymanian Compass requested comment from Mr. Welds but did not hear back by press time Sunday.

Liquor 4 Less owner Prentice Panton confirmed his two George Town stores had been granted extended hours and would begin operating extended hours today. Mr. Panton said he also understood the other applicants’ requests had been approved as well, but added that he had not been granted his request to open his Savannah store an hour earlier (at 9 a.m.).

Mr. Panton, who wrote a letter to Mr. Welds before the annual meeting alleging the board has been prejudiced against his applications, said the chairman’s recent decision was a “bittersweet victory” following eight years of effort.

Mr. Panton said the extension of package store hours was “a good start,” but he didn’t think the decision would make the legal questions surrounding the board go away.

Last week, the commissions secretariat confirmed that the Cayman Islands Anti-Corruption Commission is in the early stages of an investigation into a report of alleged corruption in relation to the board.

Also last week, the Department of Commerce and Investment said it had already formed a review committee to look into the legal and operational structure of the board.

Prior to the recent decision, the board’s general policy was for George Town package stores to close at 7 p.m.