The mall at Christmastime feels festive — white lights dangling from the ceiling, ribbon-wrapped garland draped through the halls and holiday music piped in to the crowds.
And seasonal kiosks, selling everything from toys and calendars to scarves and ornaments, are set up in every available space, like at a trade show.
That's why two local wineries say they should be able to conduct business at the mall during the holidays, because under state law, Oklahoma wineries are allowed to sell wine at “festivals and trade shows.” One of the wineries, Urban Wineworks, had its kiosk set up for several weeks at Penn Square Mall this year before receiving a letter from the Alcoholic Beverage Laws Enforcement Commission, urging them to shut it down.
“People probably were festive. I'm not sure that means it's a festival,” ABLE Commission Director Keith Burt said.
The issue of whether a shopping mall during the holidays qualifies as a festival or trade show has been a gray area in Oklahoma law for years. Summerside Vineyards and Winery in Vinita has spent several Christmases at Penn Square Mall without issue — and both customers and mall management liked working with them.
Mis Gaston, a spokeswoman for Penn Square Mall, said it's the mall's business to lease space and they leave it up to individual retailers to ensure they have the correct licensing and permits to operate.
Two years ago, Summerside was issued a citation for operating at the mall. But the ABLE Commission dismissed the complaint without prejudice, in the hopes the Legislature would define “festival and trade show,” said John Maisch, attorney for the commission. They didn't.
So Summerside decided to try again. The day before they planned to set up at Penn Square Mall, ABLE told them if they did, the agency wouldn't consider it legal, said Gary Butler, who owns the winery with his wife, Marsha.
“There wasn't much we could do about it,” Butler said. “Appeals are useless when you are two weeks before Christmas.”
Summerside also planned to have booths at Tulsa's Woodland Hills Mall and Tulsa Promenade this year, but canceled them all. As in previous years, they would sell bottles of their own wine, along with wine-related gifts, and provide free samples to patrons over 21 years old.
“We've done very well there. We were really counting on that business,” Butler said.
Definition to law
At the most recent ABLE Commission meeting, Maisch advised the commissioners that at some point, they may be asked to provide definition to the law as it applies to shopping malls. But Gene Clifton, president of the Oklahoma Grape Growers and Wine Makers Association, wishes ABLE would make a decision — even if it means taking the wineries to court — and stop leaving them to wonder if what they are doing is legal or not.
Clifton, who owns Canadian River Vineyards and Winery in Slaughterville, said as it stands, he wouldn't want to set up shop at a mall.
“It's just too vague right now. It's too scary. You could lose your license,” he said.
For Urban Wineworks, which made its first attempt to do business at Penn Square Mall during the holidays this year, even a few weeks of its presence at the mall drew more customers to the winery at 1749 NW 16, said general manager Andrew Stanley. The winery participates in more than 40 festivals per year, and hasn't given up on the mall.
“It would be nice to be able to set up in the mall and offer the product to customers,” Stanley said, adding that they plan to work with the ABLE Commission for next year.