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Sunday, April 21, 2024
Mac Taggarts Storefront
MacTaggart Storefront photographed Feb. 20, 2024

Denied MacTaggart’s alcohol license should inspire change in city policy

The Madison ALRC has been tasked to create new laws for a new beverage category.

The Madison Common Council accepted a motion Tuesday to re-refer an alcohol license change for MacTaggart’s Market and Deli back to the Alcohol License Review Committee. 

The motion, proposed by District 2 Ald. Juliana Bennett, denied MacTaggart's attempt to change the restrictions on their alcohol license, something MacTaggart's has been after since before the start of this school year.

MacTaggart's, a historic Madison establishment that has been in operation for over 30 years, has seen generations of students walk through its doors. MacTaggart's has always been a customer-first business, having earned a reputation as a friendly corner store with employees who treat you like family. 

That's why owner and operator Rick Schober said he was motivated to change his alcohol license to better serve customers what they want.

Local governments often move at a snail's pace and are filled with unexpected potholes, especially regarding alcohol licensing. So why go through the hassle, paperwork and governmental bottlenecks to change your license? For Schober, his customers' needs will always trump his own. 

What are those needs? Hard seltzers.

This might raise some eyebrows if you've ever found yourself in MacTaggart's, as they already carry many hard seltzer brands. However, since 2020, new seltzer products have entered the market that are "spirit-based" rather than "malt-based." This is an issue for MacTaggart's, as the classification of "spirit-based" disallows him from selling these products even though he carries almost identical products in both alcohol percentage and alcohol by volume. 

If Schober can't sell these products, customers will go elsewhere and cost him, his business and his employees money. 

"When I have customers come in and say, 'Oh, do you have High Noon's?' and they are going to order a sandwich and chips, they will just leave and go to Riley's and buy what they actually want," Schober said during an ALRC meeting. 

MacTaggart's currently holds a Class A beer and Class A liquor license. However, condition 5 limits their liquor license to the sale of only wine and cider, disallowing the aforementioned "new" products. During a Jan. 17 meeting of the ALRC, a 5-2 vote struck condition 5 of MacTaggart's alcohol license, which should have left him in the clear. 

However, the Madison Common Council failed to adopt the ALRC’s recommendation onto MacTaggart's alcohol license during a Feb. 13 meeting.

This outcome might not have been the case had it not been for Michael Donnelly.

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Donnelly, a member of the ALRC, was present at the meetings of both the Common Council and ALRC. His testimony, especially during the Common Council meeting, was crucial in prompting a motion for a re-referral back to the ALRC.

"I think we should make a condition that allows this product without allowing everything," Donnelly said during the Feb. 13 council meeting. 

The license change, which would remove MacTaggart's restriction on selling hard alcohol, is not what Schober had in mind when he sought to change his license.

"I do not want to become a liquor store. I don't have the space to backstock and I don't want to sell handles of vodka or tequila," Schober said during the ALRC meeting.

Bennett was adamant about her trust in Schober and his intentions not to sell hard liquor. 

"It is very clear his intent is to sell spirit-based hard seltzers in single-use cans. His intention is not to sell bottles of alcohol," Bennett said at the meeting.

Unfortunately for MacTaggart’s, approval on this change will have to wait until after the Common Council receives the new guidelines created by the ALRC to deal with this product category. The council found it prudent to set a standard for these cases and wanted the ALRC to "develop a standard and equitable condition to address the sale of spirit-based hard seltzers."

"I am confident in sending this back to the ALRC and that they will make that abundantly clear along with his (Rick's) intentions," Bennett said.

Donnelly was a crucial figure in the outcome of this decision, repeatedly stressing why allowing the change on the restriction would set a poor example going forward. He said he fears lifting the restriction under the promise that the establishment won't sell hard alcohol — something Schober has been vehemently adamant about — is not a good way of doing business.

"I think that saying we don't want somebody to do this, but we are going to give them a license saying they can anyway because we trust them not to use it is not a good idea," Donnelly said.

The ALRC will discuss and craft specific guidelines for dealing with this particular product category at a Feb. 21 meeting. Until then, MacTaggart's will have to wait even longer in a process already claiming months of Schober’s time and countless potential sales.

Matthew Silletti is a junior studying journalism. Do you agree MacTaggart's should be able to change their alcohol license? Send all comments to opinion@dailycardinal.com.

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