Dillingham City Council weighs in on Willow Tree Inn and Olsen's Liquor Store licenses

Nov 3, 2018

The Willow Tree Inn came one step closer to reopening at the Dillingham City Council meeting on Thursday, while Olsen’s Liquor Store is facing a possible license expiration. 

Credit Isabelle Ross/KDLG

The Willow Tree license will be transferred from Alaska ’49 LLC to the Paul G. Brannon Trust. The Dillingham City Council did not protest the transfer at Thursday’s city council meeting.

“There were a number of issues with the Willow Tree when it was under current ownership,” said Paul Kelly, who called in to speak on behalf of the Brannon Trust. “I’m hoping this transfer will resolve those issues. They’ve invested quite a bit of money to improve the facilities over the last several months.”

Those issues included late utility payments and taxes filed immediately before they were due, leaving no time for review. But last night’s update on the inn’s finances persuaded the council to take no action, allowing for the license transfer. Mayor Alice Ruby spoke to the benefits of having another business in town.

“It generates sales tax, it’s a facility that’s provided a place for community events, there’s a lot of positive there,” she said. “Yes, it is an alcohol license, I acknowledge that. But if those owners can get this business back in order, I’d like to see them have a chance.”

Councilmember Chris Napoli echoed those sentiments.

“I always look to support business in Dillingham. Not just for the sales tax, but for the economic value of having businesses in town,” he said.

Ruby also expressed hope that under new ownership, the inn would remain up to date on bill and tax payments.

Councilmember Chris Maines did not protest the license transfer. But he did voice concerns about reopening a second bar.

“Our population size – we shouldn’t have another one. Yet we have two bars, two package stores. They got grandfathered in. My feelings towards this are not based off of just the fact that the last owner owed us a bunch of money. To me this is a social issue.”

The inn’s license was renewed by the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board earlier this year. It is valid for two years.

At the meeting, the council protested the renewal of Olsen’s Liquor Store license, citing delinquent reports and unpaid sales taxes. That license expires at the end of December. The council could revoke the protest if the store pays all its debts.

There are six liquor licenses in operation in Dillingham: two at beverage dispensaries, two at restaurants and two at package stores. According to the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, one liquor license is available for bars and one is available for stores per 3,000 people. Two licenses are available for restaurants per 1,500 people. But Dillingham’s additional licenses were grandfathered in. If one were to expire, it would not be replaced.

Contact the author at isabelle@kdlg.org or 907-842-5281.

Correction: This article originally stated that one liquor license was available for each type of establishment per 3,000 people. It has been updated to reflect that in Dillingham, one liquor license is available for bars and one for stores per 3,000 people and two licenses are available for restaurants per 1,500 people.