By Meg Dickens
Once again, the Mountain City Council focused on the legality of Black Bear Wine & Spirits’ drive-thru window during the council’s first digital meeting on June 2, 2020. Technical issues withstanding, the discussion took up nearly a third of the meeting. Adding to the spirited meeting, Lawyer Nora A. Koffman from Baker Donelson in Johnson City lead the discussion on behalf of her client, Two Sisters LLC, owners of Mountain Spirits Liquor. That discussion and heated debate brought light to a possible legal issue on Mountain Spirits’ side as well.
The entire Black Bear Wine & Spirits’ drive-thru issue revolves around a technicality pointed out by Alderman Morrison. Does the state or city have jurisdiction over beer sales? A City ordinance is against it, while state documents and officials say it is perfectly legal. According to the Stanleys and correspondence from Nashville ABC lawyer Joshua Stepp, their state-issued liquor license includes low gravity beer sales. The license is from the state, so the Stanleys maintain that it has the authority.
Tennessee government officials agreed
“I took it upon myself to call our state representative and state senator and asked them the simple question, “Can alcohol be sold through a drive-thru?” Their answer back to me was a simple yes,” Alderman Keeble explained during the discussion.
The train of thought on the jurisdiction also applies to Mountain Spirits’ current predicament. During the proceedings, Mountain Spirits’ personnel change based on company interest came to light. The business reported this change to the State of Tennessee, but according to Recorder Sheila Shaw, a Town of Mountain City ordinance requires these types of changes to be reported and approved through the council. According to digital attendees, paperwork signed to open a liquor business in Mountain City explicitly states that failure to report to the council would lead to a $500 fine.
City Attorney George Wright has been the driving force pursuing Black Bear’s possible issue since its construction. Co-owner Becky Stanley showed shock when Wright said to address Mountain Spirits’ possible violation in the future if it becomes a problem. At this point, the discussion devolved into heated arguments, and Mayor Parsons called both parties back to order and continued.
“I don’t see that we have any jurisdiction over this drive-thru window,” said Mayor Parsons after hearing from the Stanleys and Attorney Julie Canter. “We just need to get it in writing from them (the TN Commission Council) to be done with it.”
Neither issue has been resolved yet. Mayor Parsons asked Attorney Wright to investigate both cases further. Black Bear’s drive-thru window will remain open per the state of Tennessee for now. Both cases will be reevaluated at the July meeting.