Alpenglow Wood Fired Pizza on Saturday, May 25, 2024, in Haines, Alaska. Owner Nolan Woodard has asked the borough to request more licenses from the state for local businesses to sell beer and wine onsite. (Rashah McChesney/Chilkat Valley News)
Alpenglow Wood Fired Pizza on Saturday, May 25, 2024, in Haines, Alaska. Owner Nolan Woodard has asked the borough to request more licenses from the state for local businesses to sell beer and wine onsite. The board denied Haines’ request on June 25, saying the borough assembly needs to allow more opportunity for local residents to weigh-in.(Rashah McChesney/Chilkat Valley News)

After extensive public testimony, the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board voted unanimously to deny a Haines Borough petition to raise the cap on beer and wine licenses, saying there had not been enough opportunity for the public, and existing license-holders, to weigh-in. 

The borough assembly voted to ask the state board for 10 more restaurant or eating place licenses – more commonly known as beer and wine licenses – after Nolan Woodard, of Alpenglow Wood Fired Pizza asked for the body’s help.  

Restaurant and eating place licenses – more commonly known as beer and wine licenses – are generally capped according to the size of the community. In Haines, it’s capped at two. But under new state regulations, the borough can petition the state board for more.

Just a handful of other communities in Alaska have gone through the process of asking the ABC board to raise population-based caps on beer and wine licenses. Haines appears to be the first community to have its application denied. 

Public comment was divided and contentious. Some, like Christy Tengs Fowler, who owns the Bamboo Room and its liquor license, argue that increasing the license cap hurts current license holders. Fowler, whose business is currently up for sale, is banking on the value of her license. 

“It should be hard to get an alcohol license,” said Fowler during her public comment.  She said there are already other license holders encroaching on her businesses. 

“We have a brewery, a distillery, and a meadery now which have been big competition,” she said. 

Others, like Mike Ward, who owns the Harbor Bar and Lighthouse Restaurant said he understands it’s difficult to successfully operate a restaurant in Haines in the winter – which Woodard’s Alpenglow did last year. 

Woodard has said he’s seeking a beer and wine license to help grow his business, which operates in the traditionally narrow margins of food service in Haines. 

But, Ward said he thought 10 licenses would be overkill for a community of Haines’ size. 

“It’s too many and I think everybody will end up overcompeting with each other,” he said. 

Both Fowler and Ward said they did not feel there had been enough opportunity for them to weigh in on the issue when the borough assembly took it up. 

That topic was discussed extensively by  the alcohol board when it took up the borough’s request on June 25. 

“I have a little bit of experience with public hearings in the Haines Borough,” said former Haines Mayor Jan Hill, who currently sits on the state alcohol board. “I agree with the comments that were made that this feels like it was rushed through this assembly. Typically, a resolution that has any controversy at all – or you think there will be – would be held over for at least one more public hearing after it was introduced.” 

But those who testified in support of the borough’s application said there had been ample public notice and time to weigh in. 

They also pointed to the difficulty in getting an existing license in Haines without also having to purchase an existing business. 

“If you don’t have the money to buy a new business, then you cannot get a license,” Woodard said. 

In the past, if Woodard wanted a beer and wine license that exceeded the community’s cap – he would have had to gather signatures for a petition and go through the process himself. 

But, as of Jan. 1 the regulations have changed and now the borough must petition the state for any licenses that exceed the community’s cap, effectively blocking people like Woodard from being able to go through the process on their own. 

“I understand, from a financial standpoint, of wanting to be able to make a profit. But we’re in this weird position where the businesses that have been in Haines for a long time are benefitting from this earlier law. And the new businesses, whenever they try to expand and grow and do things that are good for their business, they are put under fire – like we’re trying to hurt other businesses in town.” 

In addition to concerns about the public being able to weigh in, board chair Dana Walukiewicz said he was concerned that Haines’ application was flawed in that the borough used tourism numbers to support its calculation of the number of allowable beer and wine licenses. There are tourism-specific liquor licenses. He said the idea of allowing more beer and wine licenses in a community than its cap was to serve communities where a population-based beer and wine license cap didn’t account for the population of surrounding communities. 

“A perfect example of this is Wasilla, which is a small town. But, they’ve got tens of thousands of people who live outside the borders coming into town to do their shopping, get something to eat, et cetera,” he said.  

After the board denied Haines’ application, Walukiewicz said the consensus is that the body would reconsider if the borough held additional public hearings and perhaps reconsidered the number of new licenses it requested and then reapplied.