Liquor license available in Columbia Falls

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An all-beverage liquor license is still available in Columbia Falls, the Department of Revenue announced Monday.

Bids for the “floater license” will be accepted from now until midnight March 18.

The floater license allows a winning bidder to purchase, subject to department approval, an existing all-beverage license from an area that is above its quota for that license and move it into their area, which is below quota.

The license availability was first announced last May. An entity submitted a bid back then, but did not complete the application process.

The all beverage license is not inexpensive. It has a minimum bid of $198,670. The license allows the successful bidder to purchase an existing all-beverage license in an area that is over its quota limit. Once approved by the department, the successful bidder may transfer that license to Columbia Falls.

In other words, the winning bidder still has to go out and find a business willing to sell their license.

The minimum bid is set at 75 percent of the market value of the similar licenses in the area.

The all-beverage license was announced with an additional beer and wine license for the city last year.

The new licenses became available after Senate Bill 5 was passed in 2017, noted DOR spokesman Sanjay Talwani.

A winning bid does not guarantee a license, either. A person or business must still go through the department’s vetting process and meet all the legal requirements, Talwani noted. SB5 also requires that the winning bidder set up a new business within a year of obtaining the license, unless the business gets an extension from the department.

Prior to the passage of SB5, Columbia Falls and Whitefish were considered one area and the quotas were set based on that. Licenses were also awarded via a lottery.

But SB5 did away with the lottery and replaced it with a bidding system, generating more revenue for the state. It also, in effect, made Columbia Falls eligible for more licenses.

The beer and wine license that was put up for bid last year received no bids and will be put up again at a later date, Talwani said.

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