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Drinks and a show: WICA seeks full liquor license

Deana Duncan demonstrates where WICA could set up its bar. The nonprofit theater needs the South Whidbey School District’s approval before it can apply for a liquor license.  - Ben Watanabe / The Record
Deana Duncan demonstrates where WICA could set up its bar. The nonprofit theater needs the South Whidbey School District’s approval before it can apply for a liquor license.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / The Record

LANGLEY — Have a glass of wine, or perhaps a martini, with that play.

Hard liquor may come to Whidbey Island Center for the Arts. The nonprofit arts group is applying for a full liquor license. First, it needs the permission of the South Whidbey School District and the Langley City Council. Before WICA can make some bucks from booze, its leaders will make their case to the school board Feb. 28.

“It’s a secondary benefit rather than a primary benefit,” said Stacie Burgua, WICA’s executive director. “It’s an added enjoyment for our patrons.”

Serving alcohol, especially hard liquor, gave the board pause, however. Liability and insurance concerns led the board to check with their attorney, Jennifer Divine of Miller Nash. And though she cleared many of the legal issues, School Board Chairman Steve Scoles said he has questions for WICA.

“The hard liquor, we’re not comfortable with,” Scoles said.

“It’s just another level of adult drinking. Beer and wine are generally associated with a social occasion … If you’re serving martinis and margaritas, it raises the stakes in terms of how much alcohol people are consuming at the site.”

Limiting WICA’s license to beer and wine and excluding spirits was one option the board could pursue.

Making bank from selling beer and wine was far from a triple-fold investment for the theater. Last year, WICA sold $1,581 worth of beer and wine. Of that total, $400 was spent on the booze and $600 for liquor licenses at events like DjangoFest Northwest and an auction.

“That goes to prove it’s not a huge money maker,” Burgua said.

“We have such a small window of opportunity for alcohol.”

At issue is a state law which allows the school district to veto the license. The law states that a nonprofit arts organization within 500 feet of a school campus must seek approval from the school district for a liquor license. For WICA to obtain a license, it must pay a $250 fee in addition to gathering support from the school district and the city.

If approved by both South Whidbey schools and Langley, the theater group will likely offer a limited menu. Burgua said WICA probably will serve beer and wine, abstaining from spirits. Selling whiskey, gin, tequila and vodka requires more than just booze — mixers, ice, garnishes — and was an investment Burgua could not envision for WICA.

“It wouldn’t be a money-maker like a bar,” Burgua said.

The school board will not vote on the issue at its business meeting Wednesday. Should the school board not schedule a special meeting, its next opportunity for a vote is March 27, which would delay WICA’s liquor license until late May.

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