When Darryl Howe opened his small Aurora Brew Works on East Aurora’s lower Main Street last July, he hoped his fledgling business would be discovered.
But now it’s to the point where some village officials are questioning whether the 1,600-square-foot business – sandwiched between a health food store and the Bar Bill Restaurant – has become more than it originally billed itself: a quiet place to sample beers from all over the world and buy some to take home.
Village officials are taking a close look at whether Aurora Brew Works should have a special permit issued by the village, since it’s serving alcohol.
Village Trustee Peter Mercurio complained that beer is served at Aurora Brew Works during evenings. Other village fathers said despite offering retail sales, it’s morphed into a tavern, and therefore should be required to obtain a special use permit to align with village code.
“Why does it not have a special use permit?” Mercurio asked at a recent Village Board meeting. “I just want to make sure small businesses all play by the same rules in the village. … Full 16-ounce pints are being served.”
Building Inspector Bill Kramer was caught off guard by the recent complaints.
“They told me they would serve samples of specialty beers,” Kramer told The Buffalo News. “When Aurora Brew Works first opened, I thought he’d just give little samples – a swig of Amber Light – and then maybe [customers would] buy a 12-pack and leave. But now, I’m hearing people are just going and sitting there just like it’s a regular bar.”
Mayor Allan Kasprzak wasn’t bashful about admitting he stopped by for a “16-ounce sample” just the other week.
Trustee Patrick Shea said if Brew Works is “selling it” like that, it’s not just sampling.
For his part, Howe said he was notified in late October by Kramer that there are concerns that he may need a special use permit from the village.
“From a state standpoint,” he said, “we’re in full compliance and abiding by the state liquor license.” Howe said his intention was to offer a beer bar and beer store “in one.” He said that a little more than half of his business is retail driven.
“You can come in and sit down and enjoy a beer. We have a small bar top,” he said. “You can sit down and drink beer and enjoy it, or buy beer.”
Howe said he will do what it takes to comply with village code, but that he was disheartened by recent concerns. He insisted he was upfront from the start with the village about the scope of his plans.
“If [Kramer] really feels it warrants a special use permit, we’ll have to go through that,” Howe said.
“We opened up pretty quietly because we didn’t have a lot of money for advertising and we’re small … so I think some people are drawing their own conclusions,” he said. “We are really trying to be creative with what we’re doing.”
Aurora Brew Works is modeled after a similar venue in Ithaca, Howe said. His package retail store includes beer from all over the world, including Germany, Belgium, Japan and Brazil, as well as from area breweries including Flying Bison and Ellicottville Brewing Co.
“The special use permit mostly would involve the impact on parking,” Howe said.
“It seems I need to apply for a special permit despite my objections of how it was handled upfront,” he said after meeting recently with Kramer.
For his part, Kramer said Howe has the application for a special use permit and said he encouraged Aurora Brew Works to complete it and submit it to the village, also stating the business hours and any intentions Howe might have for tables outdoors.
“The village is not looking to shut him down,” Kramer said, “but wants him to fill out some paperwork that the other bars do.”