New liquor licenses attract little interest
Hill County residents have passed up an opportunity to open new taverns in the county.
Monday was the deadline to apply for the chance to float excess liquor licenses from other counties into Hill County, excluding Havre and Hingham, but no applications were filed, said Cynthia Piearson of the state Department of Revenue.
Jupe Compton, owner of the Palace Bar in Havre and president of the Hill County Tavern Association, said he didn't hear about anyone who was interested in applying. The Tavern Association has held a couple of meetings since the opportunity was announced in December, but the topic was never raised.
"I really didn't hear anything about it," Compton said.
The Department of Revenue periodically offers the opportunity to float licenses out of a community that is a certain percentage above its quota of licenses, which is determined by population. People from communities or areas that are not above the allowed percentage above quota can purchase the licenses to open a tavern in their community.
Some communities are well above their allowed percentage, due to factors like bars being grandfathered in when the quota system was set in the 1940s or declining population.
For instance, Butte-Silver Bow had 56 licenses above the maximum when the offer was made, department officials said.
Hill County, excluding the incorporated cities of Havre and Hingham, is at its quota of eight, but the formula allows three more to be floated in.
Paul Tuss, executive director of Bear Paw Development Corp., said the lack of interest indicates people here think the tavern business is already saturated.
"Just from an Economics 101 concept, supply and demand," he said.
Tuss said the lack of interest in opening a new tavern doesn't mean there is a lack of confidence in the economy. Bear Paw Development every day works with people interested in opening new businesses or expanding existing businesses, he said.
"Just because you haven't had any takers on this issue isn't an indication of a softening of the local economy at all," Tuss said.