For over 40 years, Ann Arbor wine retailer Village Corner was a fixture on South University, near the University of Michigan’s Central Campus, until it closed last November to make way for a student high-rise at 601 S. Forest.
Dick Scheer, an iconic figure in Michigan wine circles, owned the store that entire time. When it closed, Scheer stashed his inventory in temporary quarters, took his Terminator turn – “I’ll be back!” – and pledged to reopen shortly in a venue with better parking, as he told Sandra Silfven of the Detroit News.
Then, nothing. Scheer went to ground, keeping his own counsel as he sought a new location, to the not-infrequent exasperation of long-time customers and members of the media alike.
Until last week, when the website of Michigan’s Liquor Control Commission (LCC) spilled the beans: on March 17, Village Corner applied to relocate its beverage licenses to another campus-adjacent address.
North Campus, that is.
At 1200 square feet, the store would give Village Corner significantly more display space for wine than the constantly-cramped South University location. And, yes, there’s parking just outside the front door.
But Scheer still won’t discuss specifics, except to confirm that he has leased the space. He says that discussion of an opening date, hours and staffing would be “presumptuous” and “premature” at this point, because everything depends on LCC approval of the license transfers to the new location.
“We don’t want to be another Costco or Walmart,” he said, a reference to the lengthy and highly-publicized travails of both national retailers to obtain the necessary government approvals for local stores.
His reticence is understandable, because LCC approval may not be a gimme. In addition to its easily-mobile beer and wine license, Scheer also wants to transfer Village Corner’s license to sell higher-alcohol distilled liquor.
That’s where the kerfuffle may arise. Michigan beverage regulations prohibit multiple liquor licensees within a half-mile radius – and Northside Liquor sits just across Plymouth Road from the Courtyard Shops.
Scheer says the Courtyard Shops location qualifies for an exemption, because Plymouth Road is a four-lane road. But while the state’s regs do allow the LCC to waive distance regulations for a businesses on “a major thoroughfare of not less than 4 lanes of traffic,” nothing obligates the commission to grant an exception in any individual case.
Northside Liquor might also formally oppose the transfer, which could throw a monkey wrench into the approval process. Reached on Thursday, Northside owner Janan Zaitouna said he hadn’t received official notification of Village Corner’s application from the LCC. But he indicated that he wouldn’t be favorably disposed to see another liquor store hang out its shingle right across the street.
For his part, Scheer indicated that he would likely exercise a provision to opt out of the lease unless Village Corner can transfer its license to sell liquor, along with wine and beer.
Barring unexpected delays, the normal LCC license transfer process can take as long as two months, allowing time for paper shuffling, an on-site inspection, and sign-off by the local police department. If approved, Scheer says he would need at least four to six weeks to fixture and stock the new space before Village Corner could reopen.
But all he’s done to date is install an LCC-required burglar alarm in the still-empty space. Until the license details fall into place, he says he’s not planning further down the road.
About the author: Joel Goldberg, an Ann Arbor area resident, edits the MichWine website and tweets @MichWine. His Arbor Vinous column for The Chronicle is published on the first Saturday of the month.