Obiter Dicta

Shear Bureaucracy

Barber Builds Business With Beer, But Politicos Put the Kibosh on Customers Doing 12-Ounce Curls

Posted Jun 1, 2008 8:00 AM CDT
By Brian Sullivan

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Illustration by Jeff Dionise

Thomas Martin is a modern-day barber with an old-fashioned business sense. There was a time when you could walk into one of his shops, ask for a haircut and be offered a nice, cold beer. It’s not something you ever saw Floyd the barber do on The Andy Griffith Show (what would Aunt Bee say, after all?), though Martin saw it as a way of standing out among his competitors.

And the strategy appeared to be paying off. Martin currently operates 11 barbershops in the Grand Rapids, Mich., area and reportedly plans to expand to 24 shops in surrounding communities.

But Martin’s free beer promotion was clipped by authorities from Kent and Ottawa counties who claimed he was, in effect, selling alcohol without a license by virtue of providing it with other services.

Martin appealed to state Rep. Kevin Green, who in turn sent a letter to the state attorney general’s office saying, in part, that Martin “has received conflicting opinions from lawyers, judges and police officers about the legality of this issue.”

In a five-page ruling released less than two weeks later by Chief Dep­uty Attorney General Carol Isaacs, the free beer promotion was deemed illegal because the shops realized financial gain from it and therefore must have liquor licenses.

That meant Martin had to, er, liquidate about 30 30-packs of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer that he had stockpiled for custom­ers. He reportedly donated it to various causes.

Martin was quoted as saying that forcing him to discontinue the complimentary cold ones is another ex­ample of “the government telling you what you can do and can’t do.”

He reportedly does not intend to acquire liquor li­censes for any of his shops, and he hopes that lawmakers will “get something passed” that will allow him to resume popping the tops on free suds.

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