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Posted on Fri, May 7, 2010 : 6:03 a.m.

Salon Vox pushes for change in state law in effort to provide customers free alcoholic drinks

By Ryan J. Stanton


Ryan Brooks styles the hair of customer Kristin Carlson Thursday at Salon Vox, 115 W. Liberty St. Customers used to receive complimentary alcoholic drinks, but no longer do since it was deemed to be illegal.

Ryan J. Stanton |

At Salon Vox in downtown Ann Arbor, exceptional customer service is considered an essential part of the guest experience. Until a police crackdown last year, that included occasionally offering complimentary alcoholic beverages to customers while they had their hair styled.

What harm is there in a free glass of wine or beer? It turns out if a business doesn't have a license to sell liquor, it isn't even allowed to give away alcohol, according to the Michigan Attorney General's Office.

Salon Vox, 115 W. Liberty St., is now making a push to change state law to be able to offer free drinks to customers — without the threat of getting charged with a misdemeanor crime.

Tony Lupo, the salon's director of sales and marketing, announced at Thursday's meeting of the Main Street Area Association that Salon Vox is launching a petition drive to get state Rep. Rebekah Warren, D-Ann Arbor, to take up the cause. The initiative has support from the Ann Arbor Area Chamber of Commerce and other downtown businesses.


At right, Delinne Delcourt styles the hair of Sara Bond at Salon Vox on Thursday. She drank a complimentary water but remembers a time when the salon offered beer and wine.

Ryan J. Stanton |

Kyle Mazurek, the chamber's vice president of government affairs, has worked with Salon Vox to help navigate the bureaucracy, as well as bring the issue to Warren's attention. Having touched base with several bar and restaurant owners to make certain they're not opposed, the chamber is signing on as a supporter of what it considers "a common sense fix to this issue."

Warren could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Lupo said it's not just in the interest of the salon, but many other small businesses are affected by the current statutes on the books.

"The implications of it are absolutely huge," said Lupo, adding that even a law office with a brandy cart or an art gallery with a bottle of red wine is in violation of the law right now if it's offering free drinks to clients.

Via a sign-on letter hosted on Google, Salon Vox is recruiting electronic signatures of support for its cause. Click here to view the full text of the letter.

The initiative has bipartisan support. Kevin Green, a Republican legislator from Grand Rapids, also is interested in the cause. In March 2008, the attorney general's office ruled a barbershop chain in the Grand Rapids area was violating the liquor law for offering free beers with haircuts.

"We do not agree with this interpretation of the law and believe that rectifying it is in the best interests of our small businesses and local economy," reads the pre-formed letter Salon Vox is asking supporters to sign.

"For years, countless unlicensed Ann Arbor area small businesses served complimentary alcoholic beverages to patrons without incident. It was a customary practice of certain hair salons, day spas, clothiers and art galleries, to name a few. Local law enforcement was aware of this and took no action to prevent it prior to issuance of this attorney general letter."

Lupo said Salon Vox and other small businesses that offered complimentary drinks didn't charge for the service. They carded patrons to ensure they were of legal age, he said, and they limited consumption and did not serve those who appeared intoxicated.

"What they were attempting to do was create an interesting concept, a unique experience that set them apart from businesses in other markets," the letter reads. "All the while, they were adding to our community’s destination appeal — thus supporting our local economy."


A customer enjoys a complimentary water at Salon Vox on Thursday.

Ryan J. Stanton | Ann

Salon Vox is calling for the Michigan Legislature to roll back the attorney general letter, allowing businesses to go back to offering free drinks. As a second option, the salon says the Legislature could create a special license that certain businesses like salons, art galleries and clothing shops could apply for to be able to provide free drinks.

Lupo said Salon Vox has no delusions about competing with bars or other establishments with liquor licenses by offering free alcoholic beverages.

"We want to provide that next level of amazing experience in service to clients," he said. "We want to provide a unique concept, and really liquor licenses don't apply to us because we're not a bar or restaurant.

"A lot of people have advised us — 'You're not going to get caught, just continue to do it,'" he added. "But being who we are, we really wanted to advocate for this issue. We don't want to serve martinis in coffee mugs or something like that. We want to be able to provide that high level of service that we're used to serving. And we actually want to impact policy change so that other people in our shoes can benefit from this as well."

Salon Vox claims it's important to note the attorney general’s office has indicated its interpretation is just that — nonbinding and merely advisory in nature. Local law enforcement is therefore free to determine its own course of action with regard to the issue, the salon claims, but both the Ann Arbor City Attorney’s Office and the Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s Office have indicated they intend to follow the state's interpretation.

'"The law is what it is," said City Attorney Stephen Postema. "We've looked at this issue in the past and I think it is covered by state law and, to the extent that it's covered by state law, we would certainly enforce it."

Mary Fales, senior assistant city attorney, said the city believes the attorney general's opinion is consistent with state statute.

For businesses like Salon Vox that can't get a liquor license, Fales said, there is one option. Under current state law, nonprofit organizations are able to obtain a small number of special permits each year that allow them to host events where alcohol is served. Any business could partner with a nonprofit organization to host a fundraiser and serve alcohol.

Salon Vox, which opened in 2006, has been recognized by Elle magazine as one of the “Top 100 Salons in the United States.” For its first three years, part of its charm was the free beverages it served.

"That's what made it even harder, because clients are used to coming in and getting something different," said salon owner Jeniffer Hepler, who now offers clients drinks like water, coffee or tea. "It's just a bonus to get a complimentary beverage — beer or wine — and just all part of the experience. I do think it's hurt the experience to lose that."

Hepler said she believes the law can be written in such a way that it doesn't let just anyone serve beer. She said it must be carefully managed.

"We definitely want it to be done in the right way, where there would be special situations, hours, rules and regulations," she said. "I think that's all very important. I don't think it should just go to anyone."

The Michigan Liquor Control Commission released a memorandum on March 25, 2009, in response to numerous inquiries regarding the legality of non-licensed businesses allowing customers to consume alcohol on premise. Read the memo here.

Ryan J. Stanton covers government for Reach him at or 734-623-2529.


Joel Goldberg

Mon, May 10, 2010 : 4:53 p.m.

@Ed Rd: "it looks like the commission would under that clause have the authority to regulate this particular case." Under our strange laws, the LCC can only enforce the law if the place actually has a liquor license. So if you're running a blind pig (sic), it's the local cops who have to bust you.

Steve Pepple

Mon, May 10, 2010 : 6:40 a.m.

A comment was removed because it contained a personal attack against another commenter. Please stick to discussing the issues.


Mon, May 10, 2010 : 6:21 a.m.

here is a list of common controlled substances: Note that alcohol isn't on the list. Making up the facts as you go is a terrible habit.


Mon, May 10, 2010 : 6:10 a.m.

Linda Peck, I don't know where you get your information from, but a quick check shows that your statement about alcohol being a 'controlled substance' is flat false. And once again, you are perpetuating a horrible sky is falling attitude with your predictions that all these terrible business owners will be plying customers with alcohol until they are drooling drunk and then hand them their keys and say toodles! That is just a ridiculously foolish premise to begin with. Common sense tells me you are wrong. I cannot even fathom how you can support such an argument.


Mon, May 10, 2010 : 6:03 a.m.

q2grateful that is a ridiculous argument. No one is going to be driving home drunk from one glass of wine or beer while getting their hair done. That type of alarmist thinking is foolish at best.


Sat, May 8, 2010 : 3:49 p.m.

LOL. While I love some of the funnier comments here, I think that there is some deficit in understanding the scope of the issue here. This law affects not just a salon like Vox or, as mentioned, retail such as Renaissance, but also art galleries and other venues where one would traditionally expect hospitality which can include, e.g. a complimentary glass of wine or beer. Hospitality is not about drunkeness. This is about culture and customer service. These are not frat parties or student bars.


Fri, May 7, 2010 : 8:52 p.m.

Wow- Im not a lawyer, but it seems if any business could partner with a nonprofit organization to host a fundraiser and serve alcohol, then...the city and their economic development team can have the city council approve say the huron river watershed council to host a year long fundraiser with a tip jar to support water quality initiatives. Lets spend a 100,000 on consultant fees to come up with this one


Fri, May 7, 2010 : 8:48 p.m.

Hey this could seriously bring them more business, I can see the advertisement now: Happy hour on Fridays.. two haircuts / two drinks for price of one..


Fri, May 7, 2010 : 7:22 p.m.

they served champagne in that fancy clothes store downtown (now gone) across from palio's. i wonder how they were able to do it? you'd have to be drunk to pay $300 for a shirt, lol.


Fri, May 7, 2010 : 3:15 p.m.

Wow, who'd of thunk it...there's drunk college students in a huge college town. *tears*

thomas siterlet

Fri, May 7, 2010 : 2:53 p.m.

How bad are their haircuts that they have to get the clientele drunk!! There's already too much of a public intoxication problem downtown -especially in the student sector.


Fri, May 7, 2010 : 2:33 p.m.

This seems to go along with the selective enforcement of the open intoxicant laws, which are looked at with a blind eye on 7 saturdays during the fall.The point about giving away booze is a valid one too. I think the real issue is that it is being served and going untaxed. Anyone notice that the state legislature is looking into more alcohol taxes. Luckily, my stylist comes to me so I can imbibe all I want during my escape and timeout for myslef.


Fri, May 7, 2010 : 2:16 p.m.

One could possibly rate the efficacy of a salon by how many drinks it takes for a customer to be happy with their result... Do the stylists drink, too? I wondered that after seeing some of the haircuts around here...


Fri, May 7, 2010 : 1:15 p.m.

I have been a customer at Salon Vox for 3 years. I enjoyed having a glass of wine during my appointment. It was a nice part of their exceptional service. I did not go to Salon Vox for alcohol, I went to get my hair done. I never spent more because I had a glass of wine. I never drove drunk. No one was ever drunk inside Salon Vox. It would be interesting to know the origin of the complaint. My guess is a local bar. All about the money.


Fri, May 7, 2010 : 12:55 p.m.

Well, the newspaper looks uneducated again. Even if the salons went out and bought a liquer licence, there is still a law that says in Michigan, you cannot give away free drinks. Just ask any place that has a licence. They want to change many laws. Every state is different on how they control liquer. Michigan happens to be one of the most conservative. In many states you can BYOB if the place does not have a licence. Again, it is illegal here. I would like the change, but our state has many other issues to deal with than changing it's liquer laws. If the law passes, how would you be a destination place, if everywhere offers a free drink? And there is no evidence of a state's population growing or shrinking over lax or strick liquer laws.


Fri, May 7, 2010 : 12:47 p.m.

Not to mentoin the fact (although I cannot speak for this business) ladies can spend a lot of money getting their hair did, complementary anything is a good idea.


Fri, May 7, 2010 : 12:41 p.m.

What? You don't like your new hairdo? Relax... Have another drinky-poo and I'll be right back to fix it...; )


Fri, May 7, 2010 : 12:13 p.m.

This state is nuts! We are a joke to not allow what other states already allow.


Fri, May 7, 2010 : 11:51 a.m.

I think this debate on here is ridiculous. I used to go to Salon Vox a year ago when they did serve alcohol. It was great! They checked everybody's ID that I saw, they always limited people to 1 drink, maybe 2 I was drinking beer and had been waiting awhile. It was very reasonable and safe. It was a cool, new way of getting my haircut. I gladly paid a little more for this experience, and I would continue to. The argument about bar vs. non-bar was spot on. This place has zero incentive to over serve, alcohol is an expense and it would get out of hand if you give it away willy nilly! Be reasonable people...


Fri, May 7, 2010 : 11:41 a.m.

Yes, what a horrible world it would be if you could have a beverage in a church of all places. Can't let the party get too out of control or some diviant sexual activities might start...or patrons might get too tipsy and start wars with other people who don't believe in the same novel.

Saline Bob

Fri, May 7, 2010 : 11:33 a.m.

Personally--when I go to get a haircut I like to chat a bit about stuff--that's enough for me. While sitting in the chair I keep my hands neatly under the tarp so I don't get hair on my shirt. Holding a drink? I'd probably spill it or be watching for hair falling in. Why not go get a drink afterwards to celebrate your fine new doo? This practise could open a can of worms. How about a beer or glass of wine between x-rays and teeth cleaning while at the dentist? It could make for a nice mouth rinse and reduce the amount of novacaine required. Drinks at church might increase attendance--communion wine doesn't count. Feeling mellow during a sermon might make us feel a bit better when the preacher reminds us of our sinful ways. Selected bus stops? In line at the grocery store? Super!


Fri, May 7, 2010 : 11:25 a.m.

"Exceptional customer service would be to spare innocent parties from death, dismemberment, or maim from the drunk driver (with fancy coif) driving home from their establishment..." Puritans war cries abound. My lord, no one ever has a drink and then drives. Better shut down those things called "restaurants."

John Coy

Fri, May 7, 2010 : 11:22 a.m.

As a salon & spa owner myself I'd like to applaud the efforts of Salon Vox, and point out a couple of things for those people that have questioned the need for something like this. While some people view there every 6-8 week visit to their salon or barber shop as maintenance, others see it as taking a little time out for themselves. Other than a hand shake or occasional pat on the back, there are not many business situations or services (that are legal) where people touch you. Though some people jump around, many people develop close personal (albeit professional) relationship with their service providers that can last for years. In addition, with so many of us living in our High Tech Low Touch fast paced world, a little personal contact from another human being is often just what the doctor ordered, and is exactly the reason the spa industry has seen double digit growth over the past several years. In my opinion, having a glass of wine or beer while your escape to the spa for a couple hours, or talk to someone youve known for years, does add to the experience, and should be allowed.


Fri, May 7, 2010 : 10:53 a.m.

Interesting read that Michigan Liquor Control Commission memo, seems a couple of 'tasting' establishments in the are may be violating the same law, but apparently is not an issue or more precisely, not enforced.


Fri, May 7, 2010 : 10:43 a.m.

I guess you have to respect the AG's interpretation, but its a silly restriction. My gal used to offer me a glass of grape juice some years back. I do not think I ever accepted. Depended on what time of day. Its great customer service though. Too bad it takes a petition to get Rebekkah Warren moving. I suggest Mr Lupo simply make a phone call to Rep Green. You will get a much better response. Rusty is right MI has archaic alco laws. Reform! Reform!

Mumbambu, Esq.

Fri, May 7, 2010 : 10:36 a.m.

A couple months back NPR did a story about binge drinking in England. One recent change in law (or proposed - I can't remember) was to disallow free alcohol promotions by licensed alcohol distributors (think ladies drink free night) because it contributed to situations Lloyd Carr would describe as "occuring after midnight" :)


Fri, May 7, 2010 : 10:16 a.m.

Hey, why is everyone saying the drinks are free? Can I walk in, have a drink, and leave without paying for anything? I believe you have to pay for their service to get drinks - in which the drinks are probably figured into their fee rate.

David K

Fri, May 7, 2010 : 9:45 a.m.

Alcoholic beverages are used by businesses and organizations everyday to further business or association: Real estate developers Realtors during previews of upscale properties Artists + Galleries Musical recitals Certain off campus house parties (with even a cover charge) Neighborhood/Fraternal Association parties (members only) Pharmaceutical company dinners for physicians Why should those with a storefront be penalized?

Atticus F.

Fri, May 7, 2010 : 8:47 a.m.

I say let them...As long as they are not SELLING alcohol, and they are not serving outrageous amounts.

Joel Goldberg

Fri, May 7, 2010 : 8:44 a.m.

Unfortunately, this story oversimplifies the issues that accompany such a seemingly innocuous act as offering a patron a complementary beer or glass of wine. But the state's alcohol bureaucracy will doubtless make legislators aware of: The need for businesses providing alcohol to obtain (very expensive) insurance coverage in case a patron gets into an accident on the way home; The requirement that any "server" providing an alcoholic beverage be trained in alcohol management, in case a drunk comes in looking for a haircut; The powerful beer and wine wholesaler lobby demanding that all beverages served be purchased at wholesale from one of its members, rather than the retail beverage store down the street. On the slight chance that such a law does get approved, it will be so expensive and complicated for any non-beverage business to comply as to render it unlikely that much of anything would get served under its provisions.


Fri, May 7, 2010 : 8:34 a.m.

I want the police to start cracking down on those stores that offer food as well then. Food establishments need a license. If Salon Vox or the hardware store offered appetizers for free it it an unlicensed facility. Those who make these stupid comments about controls, need to realize, the Salon is not SELLING the alcohol. There is no benefit to them pouring 12 drinks (there is a cost). On the other hand, every bar has a profit motive to serve as many drinks as possible. The Salon would be under the same laws about serving alcohol that you or I would at our homes. If we over serve, or if we serve a minor we are violation of the law. BUT, when a friend comes to my home, I am allowed to give them a drink I would have no issue of ANY business doing this. I doubt the hardware store or furniture store will be jumping on this, but if they want to, so be it. Tell the AG he needs to spend his time worrying about internet predators and crimes committed by bank executives, and quit screwing small business owners who allow their customers to be adults.

Linda Peck

Fri, May 7, 2010 : 7:54 a.m.

This is not a good idea. As alcohol is a controlled substance, so what control is free? Who says the age of recipient? What checks? I am surprised that most people are voting in favor of complimentary alcohol. What is to stop any business from offering free drinks to get business? What happens when people leave the business and drive drunk? It is just a bad idea.


Fri, May 7, 2010 : 7:51 a.m.

So does this mean that if it is "Illegal" to give drinks away it is also criminal? I am confused since the President said that Arizona's law to make "Illegal" Aliens criminals has to be changed.


Fri, May 7, 2010 : 7:51 a.m.

Of course, on a glass of wine while sitting in a salon for several hours jumps immediately to death and dismemberment.

Linda Peck

Fri, May 7, 2010 : 7:49 a.m.

This is not a good idea. As alcohol is a controlled substance, so what control is free? Who says the age of recipient? What checks? I am surprised that most people are voting in favor of complimentary alcohol. What is to stop any business from offering free drinks to get business? What happens when people leave the business and drive drunk? It is just a bad idea.


Fri, May 7, 2010 : 7:47 a.m.

The idea of drinking anything while hair is getting cut or blown around sounds rather unappetizing to me. Take your new hairdo and go out to lunch instead.


Fri, May 7, 2010 : 7:45 a.m.

Ridiculous! It happens all the time in other cities, obviously less tight *ssed than Ann Arbor. In New York they've been doing it for years - hair salons, antique dealers, art gallery's, couture dress stores, even upscale furniture stores. It's a promotional thing! If a customer feels that they are "special", and being served a glass of champagne while having their hair done is in that category, then there is the possibility they'll become a regular and, maybe, tell their friends too. I'm sure the business can police itself, and not ply customers with a bottomless glass, thereby driving them into a drunken stupor.


Fri, May 7, 2010 : 7:35 a.m.

I think sipping on one glass of wine while having your hair styled is less likely to cause death or dismemberment from an accident than say having 2 glasses of wine with your dinner at the restaurant around the corner. Can we please do what we are supposed to be doing? Don't drink to the illegal blood alcohol level. I think we're missing a more important issue here. Isn't this a good example of too much government intrusion into our private lives? Doesn't our already cash-strapped government have better things to do than to bust a salon or other art gallery or some other business that chooses to offer a patron something to sip on besides sparkly water while they browse? That's really my question. And particularly taking a salon or spa into account - or any business where someone is a "regular". You form a relationship with that person/business. Seriously. The person who cuts your hair - you have an intimate relationship with that person. If you two go "into the back" and he or she pours you, his or her "friend" a glass of wine, is he or she really a criminal? Please!!! What about your long-term house cleaner who has the key to your house and seriously, all of your "dirty little secrets" or the "goody drawer" and furthermore, access to your bar? Would I be breaking the law if he or she were to pour him or herself a drink to get through the vacuuming? What's the difference?


Fri, May 7, 2010 : 7:23 a.m.

Relaxing; loosening up with a "drink" has been shown to "loosen" up the wallet come time to tip and buy art. Even one drink relaxes the inhibitions. And then any business that sells services can give away drinks - hey who needs a liquor license?


Fri, May 7, 2010 : 6:51 a.m.

Exceptional customer service would be to spare innocent parties from death, dismemberment, or maim from the drunk driver (with fancy coif) driving home from their establishment...

Tom Teague

Fri, May 7, 2010 : 6:23 a.m.

The linked MLive article says that the police crackdown resulted from a complaint. It would be interesting to know whether someone was actually offended by the practice or just felt that the city was missing a revenue opportunity.

Craig Lounsbury

Fri, May 7, 2010 : 6:11 a.m.

""What they were attempting to do was create an interesting concept, a unique experience that set them apart from businesses in other markets," the letter reads. "All the while, they were adding to our communitys destination appeal thus supporting our local economy." So consuming alcohol while getting your hair done is a "destination event"? I like an occasional adult beverage as much as anybody but it never dawned on me I was missing something in my hardware store experience. Sadly now i shall never enjoy a Gin and Tonic while picking up an extension cord and a new shovel.