A Five Points bar that caters largely to University of South Carolina students has revenues of as much as $20,000 a week, 65 percent coming from liquor sales.
That was the testimony Tuesday of Stephen Bland, 26, owner-operator of the Five Points Roost, a nightspot in the heart of Five Points, the popular cluster of bars and small stores adjoining USC’s main campus in downtown Columbia.
Bland, whose corporation acquired the license and lease last year to operate the Five Points Roost, is seeking permanent status for his provisional state-issued alcoholic beverage license, which allows him to sell liquor, beer and wine.
But residents of nearby neighborhoods want to shut down the Five Points Roost and have filed a protest with the S.C. Department of Revenue, which oversees alcoholic beverages licenses. Residents say they are worried about drunken college students stumbling around at night, vandalizing property and disturbing their sleep.
Bland told a judge Tuesday that the drinking business slacks off in the summer, when most students are not in Columbia, but picks up during the school year and especially during football season.
Selling mixed drinks accounts for about 65 percent of the Five Points Roost’s revenues, with beer sales accounting for another roughly 25 percent, Bland testified.
Bland’s testimony offered a rare glimpse into just how much money can be made in the business of selling alcohol to college students and others. There are some 18 other bars in the Five Points area.
Bland’s bar likely is more profitable than some of the others since its location — at the intersection of Harden and Greene streets — is a central location in pedestrian-friendly Five Points.
The dispute over whether to let the Five Points Roost have a permanent alcohol license played out Tuesday in Administrative Law Court before Judge Deborah Durden. The hearing continues Wednesday.
Bland is represented by attorney Mike Montgomery. The attorney for the neighborhoods is Dick Harpootlian, who lives near Five Points.
“This is a liquor house!” Harpootlian told Durden, adding state law prohibits bars from selling mixed drinks unless they also have a substantial restaurant business. “These are people making a million dollars a year pouring liquor and ... they are selling a lot of liquor and no food.”
Montgomery offered a different perspective.
In his opening argument, Montgomery told Durden that Bland and his business partner, Adam Ruonala, “are working to make this a better place.”
The two men have increased security, put in sophisticated camera surveillance systems, increased food sales, eliminated specials offering cheap drinks and have installed high-tech equipment to detect fake IDs and eliminate underage drinking.
Montgomery said Bland and Ruonala have reached out to the police and community, and are trying to run a safe, trouble-free establishment, adding there have been no reports of criminal behavior at the Five Points Roost since it began operation in December.
“You will find they are suitable applicants, and this is a suitable location,” Montgomery told Durden.
But Harpootlian contended that while Bland and Ruonala supposedly are the main owners of Five Points Roost, the former owner — Dan Wells — and his mother still have a substantial financial interest behind the scenes in the new bar. That is a key point because Columbia police Chief Skip Holbrook was going to shut down the bar, then called the Pour House, for being a public nuisance last spring, after Wells was charged with punching a bar patron, breaking his jaw.
Subsequently, Wells sold the property to companies controlled by Bland and Ruonala, according to testimony Tuesday. Ruonala told The State in October that Wells has “no association” with the new bar.
Harpootlian also argued the Five Points Roost is selling liquor in violation of state law.
That is because, he said, a business that sells liquor by the drink must get at least 51 percent of its revenue from selling food, according to a 1972 amendment to the S.C. Constitution and a S.C. Supreme Court ruling. Bland testified the Five Points Roost makes about 10 percent of its revenue from selling food.
The site also has been the scene of a long line of lawless events over the years, Harpootlian, police and residents say.