Windham town councilors on Tuesday granted a liquor license to the new proprietor of the Barnhouse Tavern on Route 35, reversing an earlier denial of the license.

The council 5-1 (David Ennis opposed, Michael Shaughnessy absent) Tuesday night to grant the license to Brenda Day, who owns the business and leases the building.

Earlier this year, Day submitted a liquor license application with her former business partner, John Wyman, in which she responded “no” when asked if either applicant had a criminal background.

Police Chief Richard Lewsen investigated the matter and urged the council not to approve a license, which they unanimously agreed to last month. Day then sought legal counsel and submitted a second application immediately, under her name alone, without Wyman.

Councilors on Tuesday decided to approve the second application due to “semantics,” reported one councilor, as well as sympathy for Day’s financial situation. Councilors were moved by Day’s lawyer Gary Prolman’s testimony that his client had invested “everything she had” in the restaurant and that “a liquor license was crucial to the success of the business.”

That testimony and Chief Lewsen’s acknowledgment that there would be no legal reason barring the town from granting the license in six months – due to state law governing second applications made by a new owner – convinced most councilors to reverse their earlier votes.

“For me, it really came down to Rick Lewsen’s comments that this really was a timing issue,” Councilor Thomas Bartell said. “He said he wouldn’t have any qualms issuing the license six months from now, so I didn’t see the harm in the community accepting her application now rather than six months from now. That clinched my decision.”

Other councilors reacted similarly. Councilor Liz Wisecup, who said she was “on the fence right up to the vote,” voted to approve the liquor license because of Day’s lawyer’s pleading with the council.

“I was going to vote against issuing the license, absolutely, when I went to the meeting simply because there was, and still is, no doubt in my mind that she falsified the license application,” Wisecup said. “But what changed my mind was hearing how she was going to lose everything, and I just didn’t think the punishment fit the crime, if you know what I mean. I would have hated to see her lose her livelihood, her dream, her investment over a matter of semantics. That would have been a huge consequence to pay in my mind so we had to take that into consideration.”

Asked if approving a license for someone who falsified an earlier application is precedent setting, Wisecup said “every single case has to be taken on its own merits,” and that the language in the state law states that the council “may,” not “shall,” deny licenses for falsified application information.

“It was a judgment call,” Wisecup said. “The law says the council may deny so that gives us a little leeway. If it said ‘shall,’ I think we all agree that she wouldn’t have received a license.”

Day received her hard-fought Class A liquor license on Wednesday afternoon after a two-hour inspection by Bureau of Liquor Licensing enforcement official Craig McCabe. The temporary license, which allows the restaurant to serve beer, wine and spirits, is good for one month which gives the state time to send her an official license which can be displayed somewhere in the restaurant. The official license will be good for one year.

“I am very happy,” said a visibly relieved and hopeful Day after receiving the temporary license on Wednesday. “I didn’t realize how hard it would be to run a restaurant. Hopefully, now, we’ll get some customers and I can build this restaurant into a really good business for Windham.”

Day said she had quit a job as a paralegal at a top Portland law firm to pursue her dream of owning a restaurant. She said she has “dumped her savings” into the business, having spent “six figures” according to Prolman, fixing up the building and signing a five-year lease with landlord Tony Vance of Windham. Without the liquor license, she would have lost her investment, she said.

“Every penny I have is in this building,” Day said, “and I know this license is a privilege that can be taken away at any time. But the town has my word that I take this seriously and will do my best.”

Vance, who will benefit as well if the restaurant is a success, said “Brenda has put a good effort into this restaurant. She’s done everything she said she would and more.

“And while she made a mistake, she’s shown she is willing to step up and take responsibility. And the council wisely saw that and thought it best to give her a go of it.”

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