The sign reading “No beer until we obtain a new liquor license” has faded and cracked since it was taped to the cooler at Cooper’s Landing in Easley four months ago. But Cooper now has reason to remove that sign — as long as it sticks.
Four months after the Missouri Division of Alcohol and Tobacco Control refused to renew owner Mike Cooper’s liquor license, a state commis-sion ruled Thursday that his license should be reinstated.In its ruling, the Administrative Hearing Commission — an organization that handles disputes involving state agencies and the public — ruled that Cooper did not lack good moral character, as the division had alleged. The division has been ordered to reinstate his license, but it can appeal.“It makes me feel like there’s some hope that when an injustice has been done, sensible people will realize that and fix the problem,” said Jim Karpowicz, a coordinator of the Missouri River Relief Project and one of Cooper’s character witnesses at the August appeal hearing.
Karpowicz said he was not surprised by the decision, but he was surprised it took so long.
Cooper has held his license without violation since 1987, but the division refused to renew it in June after learning that he pled guilty to possession of a controlled substance in 1993 and didn’t report it on previous applications.
Cooper appealed the decision in July, and the case stirred up an outpouring of support among those who had come to appreciate the Landing’s family atmosphere and its role as a window to the Missouri River.
Since Cooper’s application was denied, supporters have sent more than 40 letters to Keith Fuller, the state supervisor for the division, asking him to reconsider.
More than 300 also signed a petition asking Gov. Bob Holden to grant Cooper executive clemency.
Cooper said that although having to publicly relive his past has been embarrassing and the loss of his license during the summer has proved a financial crisis, the ordeal has been a valuable learning experience.
“Before all this happened, I didn’t really realize how much people appreciated Cooper’s Landing,” Cooper said.
He also said community support has been overwhelming.
“It makes me feel that what I’m doing is worthwhile,” he said, “and I feel more obligated than ever to make improvements here.”
But the ultimate fate of Cooper’s Landing has not yet been decided. Cooper said he might still sell the establishment if he finds the right buyer. And the division can still appeal the decision to a circuit court.
Cooper’s attorney, Brian Gepford, said he hopes the division will not appeal. He said businesses cited for other violations such as serving liquor to minors and possessing gambling devices are generally fined, and their licenses are not suspended for long.
“He has already been disciplined far greater than most,” Gepford said.