MLBA History

Since 1939, when the Progressive Liquor Alliance, Royal Ark No. 2, and Harmony Lodge joined forces to form the Michigan Table Top Licensees Congress, now Michigan Licensed Beverage Association, the MLBA has been improving the business climate for its members. The MLBA plays a proactive role with the legislative process, public safety entities and the Michigan Liquor Control Commission, and implements innovative and useful membership services for its members.

The mission has not changed much from the 40s, when the purpose of the Table Top Congress was to unite all licensees into a state-wide organization for the purpose of promoting the general welfare of licensees, to improve business standards and discourage harmful trade practices, and to further the legitimate business of selling alcoholic beverages in a lawful and upright manner.

The MLBA will continue to fight just as hard, if not harder, for its members. Everything we do, we do for small businesses. After all, they are the backbone of this association. Our main focus is to continually live by the MLBA mission, which is to protect Michigan liquor licensees. We also plan to maintain and increase MLBA membership because, like MLBA President Rick Swindlehurst always says, “Strength in numbers is and always will be the most effective.”

The MLBA has definitely come along away and we hope to continue this journey with you!


Click on the links below to learn more about the MLBA throughout the decades.


1939: Progressive Liquor Alliance, Royal Ark No. 2, and Harmony Lodge join forces to form the Michigan Table Top Licensees Congress.

1940: First convention held April 14-16 at the Pantlind Hotel in Grand Rapids. The name of the association and the first officers were chosen here.

Purpose: “Unite all licensees who belong to local units into a state-wide organization for the purpose of promoting the general welfare of licensees, to improve business standards and discourage harmful trade practices, and to further the legitimate business of selling alcoholic beverages in a lawful and upright manner.”

Bill Cusick: started the Michigan Beverage News and played a major role in the Association’s growth

John Prawdzik:

  • Started a campaign to expand membership throughout the state
  • Traveled over 50,000 miles signing new members and forming District Chapters
  • “Dad was enthused and realized the importance of such an organization. He worked hard and long and did have his dreams come true. He enjoyed every minute. I still remember when he used to jump in our car for meetings on the other side of the state. Yes, he did travel over 50,000 miles to keep the organization movement going.” – Dick Prawdzik, John’s son and Secretary of the Table-Toppers for 20 years

Early Offices:

  • First office was a desk in the Michigan Beverage News office in the Fox Theatre Building – Detroit
  • 131 W. Lafayette – Detroit, MI (1944-1946)
  • 111 ½ E. Michigan Ave. – Lansing, MI (1946-1954) above Jean’s Bar, which was later destroyed by fire

1947: Association of Michigan Tavern Owners and Operators joined the Association


  • 1945 – Women not allowed to tend the bar unless they were the wife or daughter of a male bar owner.
  • Bingo, card games, pinball machines, etc. were not allowed in bars
  • Trying to get licenses granted to race tracks
  • Local option laws“
    • AND IN MANY COUNTIES OF THE STATE THE LICENSEES ARE COVERING THEIR HEADS LIKE OSTRICHES AND SAYING, ‘It can’t happen here.’ It can and will unless all engaged in this industry work together.” – Tablegram article discussing local option
  • Liquor by the glass sales


  • John Prawdzik (1939-1942)
  • Otto Herpich (1942-1943)
  • Earl Miller (1943-1944)
  • Eddy Shepherd (1944-1945)
  • P. Gilbert (1945-1946)
  • Sandy Calvo (1946-1947)
  • Earl Hebert (1947-1948)
  • Sol David (1948-1949)
  • Frank Fabiano (1949-1950)


1954 Office: moved to 218 W. Ionia – Lansing, MI


  • Jack Fogarty (1950-1951)
  • John DeGroot (1951-1952)
  • Don Hinter (1952-1953)
  • M. Lalas (1953-1954)
  • J. “Puppy” Bills (1954-1955)
  • Clifton O’Clair (1955-1956)
  • Ray O’Reily (1956-1957)
  • Charles Baldwin (1957-1958)
  • Ralph Froh (1958-1959)
  • Eddie Rhodes (1959-1960)


  • Women allowed to bartend in 1955
  • 1955: won automatic renewal of licenses annually without approval of local legislative board
  • Defeated Sunday and midnight closing laws


1963: Renamed the organization the Michigan Licensed Beverage Association


  • 1964: Capital Park Hotel – Lansing
  • 1967: 534 Walnut Street – Lansing


  • Ken Barnes (1960-1961)
  • John Ney (1961-1962)
  • Jay Stafford (1962-1963)
  • Derwood L. Root (1963-1964)
  • Lester Bernth (1964-1965)
  • Gerald Scholnherr (1965-1965) died shortly after taking office
  • Leo Wilson (1965-1966)
  • Dean Wilkinson (1966-1967)
  • Roy LeGault (1967-1968)
  • Gerald Peterson (1968-1970)


  • Liquor Liability Laws (held licensees accountable if they only served someone one drink and they later became intoxicated at another establishment)
  • Driver’s License Photo Law
  • Repealed law prohibiting sale of alcohol on election days



  • Robert Heck (1970-1971)
  • Gwen Cheek (1971-1973)
  • Leo Stainer (1973-1975)
  • Ed Morey (1975-1976)
  • Ed Tyll (1976-1977)
  • Norm Smith (1977-1979)
  • Don Clark (1979-1981)


  • Proposal D – Drinking age reform proposing a raise in the drinking age from 19 to 21
  • Liability Insurance
    • MLBA insurance company launched in 1979
  • Lottery laws (Michigan Lottery introduction in 1972) – picture
  • Pin ball machine bill (June 21, 1972 – Gov. Milliken signed bill allowing pinball machines in liquor establishments) – picture
  • Purchase age changes:
    • 18 in 1972
    • 19 in 1978
    • 21 in 1978



  • Don Clark (1979-1981)
  • Herb Turley (1981-1983)
  • Harold Palaian (1983-1984)
  • Ernest Swanton (1984-1986)
  • Dick Gray (1986-1992)


  • Dram Shop Act – liability laws
  • Ban on 2-for-1 drinks
  • TAM
    • Launched in 1984
    • Gained NLBA marketing campaign September 1984
  • Sobriety Checkpoints – 1986 – Gov. Blanchard (MLBA wanted them banned)
  • Ban on advertising price and brand of beer or wine (MLBA opposed price and brand advertising)
    • 1982 – bars were allowed to advertise
    • 1983 – ban went into effect
  • 1988 – proposal to make drunk drivers pay for services (ambulance, police, fire, hourly wage for time taken for arrest, etc.)



  • Dick Gray (1986-1992)
  • Denny Hayes (1992-1994)
  • Al Miller (1994-1997)
  • Missy Morrison (1997-2000)


  • Video lottery
  • Smoking ban – MLBA negotiated to allow 50/50 smoking/non-smoking areas
  • BAC – fighting legislation that wanted to lower the BAC to 0.08
  • Secondary Use
  • Liquor Distribution – bar owners no longer had to pick up liquor themselves
    • MLBA wanted to ensure reasonable distribution prices



  • Bird Smith (2000-2004)
  • Steve Warmington (2004-2005)
  • Rick Roberson (2005-2012)
  • Rick Swindlehurst (2012-Present)


  • Smoking ban
  • Secondary Use
  • Tax issues

MLBA fought for clearer guidelines and penalties on super drunk legislation

Fought tax increases to liquor taxes in the early 2000s, proposed by Gov. Granholm

Worked with legislature on 0.08 BAC sunset clause, where 0.08 would revert back to 0.1 in ten years. In 2013 another 10 year sunset clause was enacted.

MLBA worked hard to stop the smoking ban, or at least let the decision rest with owners as to making their businesses smokeless or not, but the ban passed took effect in May 2010.

Worked against MADD to keep ignition interlock systems out of vehicles of non-offenders. MADD wanted ignition interlocks to come standard in all vehicles.

In 2006, MLBA encouraged the state to promote tourism to keep residents in Michigan and bring in more tourists from out of state. This would later become the Pure Michigan campaigns. In 2014, the Pure Michigan campaign helped bring in $1.2 billion from out-of-state visitors alone.

MLBA fought to extend hours to 4 a.m. The law currently requires liquor sales to end at 2 a.m.

In 2012, MLBA partnered with OHSP on safe driving campaigns during major summer holidays. Garnered positive responses from members as it goes along with our own credo of responsible service.

Worked with legislature to keep drunk driving penalties relative to offense through “graduated system” of punishments. MLBA did not want “super drunk” drivers to have the same penalties as someone at 0.8, or first time offenders to have the same punishments as multiple offenders.

2010 - Present

Past Presidents:
Gerald “Bird” Smith (2000-2004)
Steve Warmington (2004-2005)
Rick Roberson (2005-2012)
Rick Swindlehurst (2012-Present)


At the turn of the century, the MLBA knew there were several long, hard battles to be fought. A total smoking ban of public places was always lurking around the corner, but — even with the MLBA’s rigorous efforts to leave the option of a smoking or non-smoking establishment up to the business owners — Michigan’s Smoke-Free Air Law took effect May 1, 2010.

This hard blow came after the 2006 recession, which struck the entire country and caused many establishments to close their doors for good. The recession coupled with the smoking ban created a great deal of havoc to the hospitality industry. Many businesses have had to adapt their hours of operation, or their entire business model, in order to endure the harsh economic climate.

However, tough times have never meant the MLBA slowed its pace in the fight to ensure positive movement for the hospitality industry.

In the early 2000s, Gov. Jennifer Granholm proposed an increase to liquor and cigarette taxes, already significantly higher than surrounding states. The MLBA successfully fought this proposal.

The association has also fought several proposals from MADD regarding ignition interlock systems. Ideally, MADD would like ignition interlocks to come standard in all vehicles, but for now they want them included in all drunk driving offenses — from first time offenders to the “super drunk.” We’ve been successful in staving off all their attempts and their use has only been administered at the discretion of the trial judge for those with multiple offenses.

The MLBA also fought for clearer guidelines and penalties regarding the “super drunk” legislation. Members were able to compromise on the current system by mitigating the preventionalists’ hopes of a lower BAC to be considered “super drunk.” Members were also effective in reforming the decoy operations policy to make more favorable for retailers.

We were key in implementing the 0.08 BAC sunset clause in 2003 that states the legal BAC will revert back to .010 in 10 years. When the sunset clause was reviewed in 2013 and legislators wanted it removed, the MLBA was able to explain why there was no reason to remove it as this is an issue that needs to be reviewed as time passes.

Through efforts to reform the liquor code, the MLBA worked with the MLCC to approve intra-county transfers of on-premises licenses within the same county. This helped to increase the value of on-premises liquor licenses. Also, the initial fee for resort licenses was increased to $20,000, which automatically increased the value of all escrowed on-premises licenses as well.

To better assist members and their customers, the MLBA supported the 2010 catering bill which allowed on-premises licensees to deliver and serve alcohol to off-premises events — thereby creating a one-stop-shop for their customers. This has helped many establishments grow their customer base and enable their businesses to thrive.

Members were also instrumental in the upswing to Michigan tourism. In 2006, the MLBA encouraged the state to begin a promotional campaign to encourage residents to vacation more in Michigan and also bring in more out-of-state tourists. This campaign would later become known as Pure Michigan, with ads seen across the country. In 2014, Pure Michigan helped bring in $1.2 billion from out-of-state visitors alone.

There were even more shake-ups in the beginning of the new decade as the economy slowly began to improve and the MLBA office began its modernization process. The MLBA magazine, known as The Beverage Journal, was revamped and renamed Michigan Hospitality Review. The Review was expanded to heighten its focus on Michigan while still showcasing a national perspective.

When Gov. Rick Snyder took office, he immediately started reviewing areas that needed to be updated and the Michigan Liquor Code was one of these areas.

The Governor created the Office of Regulatory Reform (ORR) and within that the statewide workgroup to create recommendations on how to modernize the Liquor Code. Members of the MLBA were among those selected by the Governor himself, and in 2011 the ORR Report was released and many changes came quickly.

Some of the changes from the ORR recommendations were to allow tastings at on- and off-premises locations to better facilitate sales for licensees. The introduction of the growler bill allowed all on-premises licensees to purchase a special permit to fill growlers of beer for their patrons — something many establishments had been eager to provide. For licensees buying licensed businesses, the conditional license allowed owners to open their doors in a more timely manner without having to wait for the MLCC review process.

After decades of waiting, the MLBA was able to come to a compromise on secondary use. Certain logoed promotional items can now be utilized by on-premises establishments to promote the products they sell. The 2004 opinion from Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox to allow lighted signs within establishments was one of the key factors that came into play when negotiating the compromise.

Combined with the secondary use bill were a handful of microbrewer bills. Because popularity within the craft beer industry arose so quickly, there were many updates that needed to be made to facilitate the growth of the industry. The MLBA also worked with legislators to increase the allowable number of barrels each microbrewer could produce, and also allowed the smaller microbrewers to self-distribute their products to local establishments. The MLBA was more than happy to assist our industry partners in this effort.

Things were also changing for MLBA partners TAM® and the MLBA Limited Liability Pool. In 2001, the MLBA Limited Liability Pool became the MLBA Mutual Insurance Company, where policy holders became shareholders of the company.

MLBA Mutual shareholders agreed to a merger with Conifer Insurance Company in December 2012. The MLBA has since partnered with Conifer to offer discounts and other benefits to our members. The merger was bittersweet, but the MLBA is always working to create beneficial partnerships with other industry leaders.

After the merger, the MLBA needed to downsize its home office space. The two-story building on Fairview Ave. was sold in 2014 and the MLBA returned to its roots in downtown Lansing after almost two decades. With the push to modernize, the MLBA felt as though the move would facilitate lobbying efforts for our members.

In 2000, MLBA took back control of TAM® from the NLBA, and the National Hospitality Institute (NHI), a 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation, was founded as the educational arm of the MLBA. Under NHI, the association has been able to offer other valuable programs such as New Licensee Training Seminars, Bar Management Certification, Liquor Law Enforcement Seminars, Festival and Event Training, and most recently Food Safety Certification.

In April 2014, the TAM® Online Training Program was approved by the MLCC. This enables Michigan licensees and their employees to take the TAM® training course at their own pace and convenience online instead of having to wait for a class in their area.

Today, TAM® is one of the leading alcohol server training programs in the country. It is offered in 32 states and approximately 13,000 students are trained each year.