Alcoholic Beverages

How much does a liquor license cost in the state of California?

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April 09, 2014 4:55PM

California has four license types that, in general, must be purchased on the open market from the existing pool of available licenses. They are:

  • 47 - on sale general - full liquor - for restaurants
  • 48 - on sale general - full liquor - for bars and nightclubs (over 21 only)
  • 20 - off sale beer and wine only - for convenience stores
  • 21 - off sale general - full liquor - for markets and liquor stores
The exception above is the type 20 which in many areas of California can still be applied for directly from the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (or ABC). However, if your business is located in a 'moratorium' area, you too will have to buy the license from a private seller.

Prices vary according to county and license type with the most expensive licenses being in the full liquor category. Full liquor licenses can range from a low of $12,000 to as high as $200,000 with beer and wine being as low a $3-5,000.

The market price of a license is determined by three factors:

  • the county
  • the license type
  • the current market value--based on supply and demand Unless you are able to make contact with a seller directly, your best bet is to contact a reputable liquor license broker.
When buying a liquor license it's also important to know that you must, in order to effect the transfer legally, establish an escrow.

Important tips when choosing an escrow company to handle your transfer, it is advised that:

  • the escrow firm is a third-party to the transaction (the license broker should not own the escrow company to avoid a conflict of interest)
  • the agent/broker is familiar with ABC requirements (this is not like an escrow for buying a home).