Our Views: Two moves could boost business in Janesville's downtown

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Wednesday, September 3, 2014

On Tuesday, Janesville’s alcohol licensing advisory committee made two calculated but reasonable moves to boost downtown business.

The committee recommends that the city council grant a liquor license so Janesville residents Ilir Banushi and Arben Useni can open Whiskey Ranch Bar and Grill in the former Quotes building at 24 N. Main St. It also agreed to let tavern and restaurant owners decide whether to allow dogs in outside seating areas.

Neither decision was simple.

Banushi runs Edgerton’s 2 Brothers Pub and Grill, where a July 30 shooting wounded two men. Edgerton police have been tight-lipped. Janesville city staff, however, called it a robbery of an illegal, high-stakes card game.

Deputy Police Chief Dan Davis, a committee member, warned Banushi and Useni that police wouldn’t tolerate illegal gambling. They promised that their Janesville bar would have no gambling.

Some committee members visited taverns in Rock and Dane counties that the two operate and got favorable impressions.

The tavern owners would lease or buy the building from Denise Carpenter, who gave up her license last year after a decade of problems at Quotes. A 2005 fight left a patron in a coma and a bouncer charged with felony battery. Police claimed Quotes erased security video to hide another fight and after-hours sales. In 2012, Quotes was responsible for 30 percent of time police spent responding to violence at the city’s 43 bars. The final blow came last year  when a woman tossed a drink at a male customer, and he fired a bar glass that shattered on the side of her head and sliced the face of a female bystander. Police Chief Dave Moore argued the bar harbored a “culture of violence” and called for a license revocation hearing.

None of this means Whiskey Ranch can’t run cleanly, particularly when the operators vow to avoid gambling. They also plan to play country-rock music rather than hip-hop and rap music that lured rowdy late-night crowds to Quotes.

No one wants another troubled tavern. Neighboring bars and businesses neither need nor deserve the negative publicity. Downtown, however, also doesn’t need more vacancies. Carpenter deserves the chance to lease or sell her building to Banushi and Useni. The city must balance public safety against the rights of a business owner to make money. In this case, the council should grant Whiskey Ranch the license.

As far as allowing dogs on tavern and restaurant patios and decks, Mick Gilbertson, owner of the Armory at 10 S. High St., pushed the idea. Only a handful of downtown businesses offer outdoor seating. The Wisconsin Department of Health Services approved a rule last year to allow businesses to have dogs in outdoor areas. Each business must obtain a variance from the state and could exclude certain dog breeds or sizes.

The state requires that dogs enter only through patio gates, and the Janesville committee eased a rule that banned patrons from such entry. The committee also wisely added a leash requirement.

Gilbertson reasoned that permitting dogs would create a more urban-friendly downtown so people could walk their animals and stop to dine. Coincidentally, this move comes after the Beloit Farmers Market’s oversight board voted to ban dogs at the market starting Saturday. Dogs remain prohibited at the Janesville Farmers Market downtown.

Not everyone loves dogs. Some people won’t patronize a business if they must dine or drink with someone’s dog nearby. Each business owner will have to weigh whether allowing dogs attracts or diverts customers.

Regardless, Tuesday’s moves by the licensing committee could pave the way for a better business climate in a downtown trying to carve a niche as an entertainment district.

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