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Brooksville Blueberry Festival dispute

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Visitors to the Brooksville Blueberry Festival last month got a dollop of controversy along with the usual festival fair when one downtown business was accused of violating the terms of the event’s liquor license as well as their own.

Launched in 2018 by Coney Island Drive Inn Owner John Lee, the Free Brooksville Blueberry Festival features food, concerts, games, food, and other attractions, all to draw residents and guests to downtown Brooksville. All proceeds of the event are donated to support a variety of local charities, including several Hernando High School athletic teams, the Brooksville Silo Project, the Brooksville Historic Women’s Club, and the Hernando Hernando County Historical Preservation Society.

This year the event generated about $50,000 and drew better than 50,000 to Brooksville’s downtown district. This year, owners of the 1946 Wine, Beer + Small Plates were accused of violating the Festival’s special state event liquor license by selling alcoholic beverages in their parking lot to customers who later crossed barriers erected to separate private businesses from the area occupied by the festival.

“Their license covers their area (and) The Main Street permit covers the festival area,” said Natalie Kahler, executive director of Brooksville Main Street, which coordinates the annual event.

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“State law prohibits crossing from between the two with open containers unless the business applies for a special permit; they did not do so – the barricades were a way to show the line between the two areas and were recommended by our insurance, attorney, and law enforcement.”

The violation prompted a written violation of the State-issued liquor license for the event by the owner of the festival against the owners of the 1946 Wine, Beer + Small Plates.

According to the complaint, the owners of 1946 set up bars in the business’s parking lot to sell beer, wine, and Sangria for “off-premise consumption.” “When we (festival organizers) attempted to set up barricades to secure our event, they tore down the barricades to secure our event, they tore down the barricades and enticed our attendees onto their parking lot to purchase alcohol from the two bars.”

No one from 1946 was available to comment on the complaint but denounced the complaint filing in a May 1 Facebook posting. “I cannot believe how far this man (Lee) is going because we stood up for ourselves, our business, and livelihood.”
Lee declined to comment.

The posting also criticized Kahler for being listed on the complaint as a witness. “Brooksville Main Street did not file the complaint, and neither did I,” she said. “ I am listed as a witness on the complaint, but just as one does not have to consent to be subpoenaed, one does not have to consent to be a witness.”

A later posting on the 1946 Facebook page characterized the incident as a “misunderstanding.” “We would like everyone to know that we do not hold Brooksville Main Street or Natalie Kahler responsible for the complaint filed against us,” the posting read. “What started as a misunderstanding has turned into something uglier than we ever could have imagined.
“We don’t want to perpetuate hate or violence. We are encouraged by the outpouring of support for us and are hopeful all parties involved will continue to learn, grow and prosper.”

During the May 1 regular meeting of the Brooksville City Council, Mayor Blake Bell said that while he had received several phone calls about the incident asking the Mayor and Council to, in effect, take sides in the controversy, he checked in with the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) and with the State of Florida liquor license regulators to confirm details of the incident.

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