Reservation strip club seeking liquor licensePrairie Chicken makes request to Buffalo County, technical issues delay process.
By: Anna Jauhola, The Daily Republic
FORT THOMPSON — After several years of not serving alcohol, a strip club in Buffalo County is seeking a liquor license.
But Julie O’Neal withdrew her application during Tuesday’s Buffalo County Commission meeting after the commission pointed out some issues with it. O’Neal has leased the Prairie Chicken Bar and Resort for about two years and was an entertainer there for one year prior to that.
“There were problems encountered with the application itself,” said Carl Haberstick, O’Neal’s Huron-based attorney.
The bar — operating as a “juice bar” serving pop and pizza — is located about five miles east of Fort Thompson in a part of the county that is within the borders of the Crow Creek Indian Reservation.
The legal description of the bar’s location was not correct and the tribal resolution granting a liquor license from the tribe was not specific enough, said Elaine Wulff, county auditor.
Since the bar is located within reservation boundaries, the county requires a tribal resolution to prove the tribe has approved the business, she added.
Haberstick said the tribe issued a liquor license to the Prairie Chicken Bar and Resort LLC and O’Neal applied for a county license in her own name.
Haberstick said the half-hour discussion was little more than figuring out how to proceed.
“It took a while to figure out whether we could withdraw the application,” he said. “We asked that the commission continue the hearing until October, but that was problematic from a procedural point of view.”
By withdrawing the application, the commission didn’t have to act on the request and O’Neal can bring the request back to the Oct. 2 meeting. Had the commission dismissed the application, O’Neal couldn’t apply until next year, Haberstick said.
Commissioner Donita Loudner said issuing a liquor license requires the commission to look at the character of the individual applying. At this point, “nothing says she can’t have one,” Loudner said about O’Neal.
State’s Attorney Steven Fox and Commissioner Ronald Peterson were unavailable for comment. Commissioner Lloyd Lutter refused to comment.
O’Neal said the decision to apply for a liquor license was an easy one, but the process has been drawn out. It took eight months just to get approval from the Crow Creek Tribal Council, she said. At one point, the council changed its mind in order to use the liquor license in Fort Thompson.
“I was very patient down there with them,” she said of tribal leaders.
O’Neal said the liquor license would allow her to provide more than 10 additional jobs and increased tax revenue for the reservation. She told the tribe she would need to hire three security guards, four servers, two bartenders, two assistant managers and two door people to check licenses and collect cover fees.
Entertainers are hired from out-of-state, she added.
Of the sales taxes collected at the bar, 11 percent goes to the state and 89 percent back to the reservation. The council eventually agreed and issued her the license.
She estimates that last year, 50 percent of her clients walked out because the bar didn’t offer liquor. The other 50 percent didn’t stay long.
“I could only keep them there so long with pizza and pop,” she said.
Stan Wellner, who owns the bar, originally turned it into a strip club in 2002. Prior to that, his uncle owned it as a grocery store. He said the future of the business is unknown but could be bright. He and O’Neal have discussed doing a contract for deed should O’Neal be able to procure a liquor license and turn the business toward profitability. If that happens, Wellner hopes to build a convenience store on the property, which is about five acres, he said.
“It’s definitely going to happen sometime,” he added. “It’s a very busy corner and my uncle did really well here with a store.”
The property is located at the junction of state highways 50 and 34, known as Lee’s Corner.
Wellner lives on the property and also runs a small camping park. He is confident his status as a former felon will not affect O’Neal’s ability to receive a liquor license.
Wellner and a former manager, Nathan Shaull, had issues with obtaining a liquor license in the past. In 2004, Shaull, of Highmore, was denied a license by the county and appealed the decision in circuit court. The circuit court judge found in favor of the county, agreeing with the county’s claim that it could not provide adequate law enforcement and coverage to the area of the club.
The court also upheld the county’s decision because liquor license holders are to have “good moral character.” Shaull apparently had a history of legal and financial problems in the cattle industry.
The two men reopened the bar in October 2004 and sold alcohol despite not having a liquor license from the county. They were arrested in mid-October that year. The establishment has been a juice bar since 2004.