Cox: No beer in barbershops

John O'Brien Mar. 25, 2008, 1:37pm


LANSING, Mich. - Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox has put the beer on ice -- figuratively.

Cox's office ruled Monday that the owner of 11 barber shops in the state may not hand out complimentary beer to patrons because he does not have a liquor license. Thomas Martin had asked state Rep. Kevin Green, R-Wyoming, to look into the matter after authorities started turning up the heat on him.

Even though the beers were free, Chief Deputy Attorney General Carol Isaacs said it served a business purpose. The letter can be viewed here.

"(I)t is reasonable to conclude that an unlicensed barbershop promoting free beer to patrons, whether or not the patrons pay for haircuts or hair products, is employing the offer of free beer as a solicitation device," Isaacs wrote to Green. "By this device the barbershop attracts paying customer business from persons passing by on the street and from those who learn of the offer by word of mouth.

"By using the free beer device, the barbershop also seeks to draw customers from other barbershops to its own premises. Thus... the barbershop uses the free beer offer to non-paying customers as consideration, i.e., to reap a direct financial benefit. Only a licensed business may do so consistent with (state law)."

Martin offered patrons more than 21 years old who had not been drinking a free Pabst Blue Ribbon, according to reports.

"I'm glad we finally got clarity on the issue," Martin said in a Grand Rapids Press report. "Offering a complimentary beer is not something that we created, it's an old-fashioned service that was done years ago. We just brought it back."

He added that he wishes to work state lawmakers to legalize the practice.

To make the ruling, Cox's office explored the decision in 1937's United-Detroit Theaters Corp. v. Colonial Theatrical Enterprise, Inc. In that case, the defendant gave out tickets for a lottery to the theater's paying customers and individuals who did not pay but stood in the foyer or on the street in front of the theater.

Colonial argued that the three elements necessary for establishing a lottery -- consideration, prize and chance -- were not present because tickets were given without charge to non-paying customers. That argument was rejected.

"In doing so, the Court noted that, while some patrons did not pay for theater admission tickets or for the lottery tickets that might entitle them to a prize, and though the defendants did not receive any direct consideration from these individuals, consideration was nevertheless paid and received because the prizes attracted persons on the street as well as persons from other theaters into defendants' theaters," Isaacs wrote.

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