BY ETHAN FORMAN
---- — DANVERS — Some selectmen are eyeing Peabody’s move to get 10 additional liquor licenses with interest, suggesting Danvers ought to make a similar push on Beacon Hill to give the town’s restaurant community a boost.
The board may also help restaurants without beer and wine licenses by coming up with rules to allow patrons to brown-bag it.
Five of the proposed licenses in Peabody are meant to help the Northshore Mall stay competitive, given the recent opening of the new MarketStreet Lynnfield shopping center. The other five are being requested to create more small restaurants in Peabody Square, giving the downtown a boost.
These new liquor licenses would be “site specific” and could not be sold or transferred.
“I hate to see Peabody get all these big businesses, restaurants in their community and we don’t get anything,” Selectman Dan Bennett said at last week’s board meeting. The board, which had three members at its Dec. 17 meeting, did not take any votes, and the matter is still open for discussion.
Selectmen said they favor Danvers getting more liquor licenses in the spirit of Peabody’s push for more, with “the thought we should be proactive in getting some additional liquor licenses especially where we had large, national chains looking for property in Danvers to locate in,” Bennett said.
The state’s liquor laws date back to the 1930s and parcel out licenses based on population. Many feel the laws are a disincentive to small restaurant owners who want to expand but can’t afford to pay the market rate for a license and deter national chain restaurants from coming to town when there are no licenses available.
Danvers has approximately 45 alcohol licenses of all types.
Town officials are also exploring the idea of restaurants without licenses allowing patrons to bring in their own beer and wine in a brown paper bag. Town Clerk Joseph Collins said he spoke with the state Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission on ways the town could increase its pouring, including allowing brown-bagging.
Selectmen Chairman Gardner Trask said the intent would be for the town to regulate this practice the way it does liquor licenses, making sure servers are trained in serving alcohol.
“I just don’t see the excitement of brown-bagging it as a community,” said Bennett, who wondered how brown-bagging might help generate more meals taxes.
Selectman Diane Langlais said she likes the idea of brown-bagging, saying it will boost meals taxes because restaurants will do more business.
Discussion about the town getting more liquor licenses was sparked this fall after at least three applicants applied for a single available beer and wine license. Selectmen awarded the license to the Daily Harvest Cafe on High Street, but a restaurant planned for a building under construction on Holten Street and a Chinese restaurant on High Street had also applied. Kelly’s Roast Beef also showed interest in this license, Trask said.
At the meeting, Selectman David Mills said he felt bad the town did not have enough licenses to go around. Small restaurants “should have the opportunity without major investment to serve beer and wine,” Mills said.
Trask said he spoke about a month ago with state Rep. Ted Speliotis, D-Danvers, about increasing the number of licenses in Danvers through a home rule petition to the Legislature, similar to the mechanism Peabody is using. He also asked the town to investigate brown-bagging, he said.
Speliotis has said in recent weeks he favors “over quota” licenses for Peabody. A home rule petition for this has not been filed yet, he said yesterday.
“It seems every couple of years, we have an over-quota license” in Danvers, Speliotis said. He said he has not been approached formally by the town on this issue.
Speliotis said he would “hear what the town is interested in doing and be helpful if I can be.”
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.