The long-running saga of whether Sunday alcohol sales can be permitted at gas stations and liquor stores may be resolved this week with the Liquor Licensing Board committing to deal with a backlog of applications.
During a meeting Monday, the board gave assurances the matter would be dealt with, after one business owner raised the prospect of legal action over perceived double standards for different outlets.
Robert Hamaty, owner of Tortuga Rum Company, took issue with the fact that Peanuts store at Red Bay Gas Station continues to be allowed to sell alcohol on Sundays, while his application for the same opportunity has not been dealt with.
“There is too much peanut butter on that slice of bread and somebody’s got to deal with it,” he said.
“Unfair competition exists. Maybe I should be suing the board for loss of revenue. I have the same license as Peanuts and the board is stopping me from selling.”
Liquor board chair Noel Williams told applicants at the quarterly meeting Monday that legal advice had now been given from the attorney general and the board would be in a position to deal with the applications.
Under consideration are Mr. Hamaty’s application to open his liquor stores on Sundays, first made in September of last year; the renewal of Peanuts license and numerous applications from several gas stations to sell on Sundays.
Mr. Williams apologized for the delays, saying the board had wanted to make sure they got the decision right. He said they had gone above and beyond to get legal advice and were now ready to process the requests.
“I felt we have to get this whole thing right. I take responsibility as chair and I apologize for the length of time we have taken,” he said.
The board adjourned the public meeting Monday afternoon to deliberate on the applications and is expected to announce its decisions later this week or early next week.
There remain considerable differences of opinion on how retail licenses, which allow for Sunday liquor sales and have typically been used for bars, should be applied to convenience stores and gas stations.
Attorney Cline Glidden, representing Peanuts at Monday’s meeting, and Mitchell Welds, a former liquor licensing board chair who appeared as a consultant for two gas stations seeking Sunday licenses, argue that the law permits retail licenses to be granted for Sunday sales with conditions at the discretion of the board.
Mr. Hamaty argued that it does not. He said the law was intended to preserve Sunday sales for bars and restaurants, but indicated if his competition was being granted such licenses, he was compelled to seek them too.
Mr. Welds, speaking on behalf of H & B Ltd., which has applied for a retail/package license to sell alcohol, including on Sundays, at its Esso franchise locations on Shedden Road and West Bay Road, said there was nothing in the law to restrict retail licenses to bars. He said the board could grant the license and impose whatever conditions they saw fit.
“I really see nothing in the law that prohibits or restricts the board from granting retail licenses to gas stations,” he added.
Confusion has reigned on the issue since Peanuts first applied for a retail license allowing Sunday sales in March last year. The board approved the application, but later doctored minutes and claimed to have rejected it, before being compelled after an internal government review to follow through with its original decision and issue the license. That controversy led to significant changes in personnel on the board, and the new board has yet to make a determination on the issue.
Whatever the board decides may be subject to change in short order.
Commerce Minister Joey Hew indicated in an interview with the Cayman Compass that government would bring changes to the Liquor Licensing Law this year to clarify what category of license each business could seek.