Most cities are maxed out on liquor licenses and must go to the Legislature for more. Salem has nearly 80 active full liquor licenses, according to the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission. That’s almost twice the limit under the state’s population-based cap.
Requests to the Legislature for more licenses increase every year, said state Sen. Joan Lovely, D-Salem, a member of the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure. “And they’re not just asking for one — but five, 10, sometimes even a dozen,” she said.
On Tuesday, lawmakers will consider home rule requests from Danvers and Peabody for more licenses to sell beer, wine and liquor. Peabody wants 10 more, Danvers wants six.
On Thursday, they approved a similar request from Beverly for four additional licenses — for a theater, a new cafe, a seafood restaurant and a bar. The city currently has a 36 full liquor licenses.
Beverly wants to boost its downtown restaurant industry, and officials hope to offer more licenses to potential investors.
“It’s a balancing act,” said Kevin Harutunian, chief of staff for Beverly Mayor Michael Cahill. “We want licensing that will spur economic growth in strategic areas but are keeping in mind the potential impact additional licenses could have for our existing business community.”
Stephen Clark, a lobbyist for the Massachusetts Restaurant Association, said restaurant owners across the state are divided over the issue. Those who paid top dollar for liquor licenses don’t want the market flooded with new competition, he said.
“The reality is people have paid a lot of money for these licenses, and they’ve built a business plan around them,” he said. “So the argument is that it’s somewhat unfair if a competitor opens down the street and gets a license through the legislative process, which costs much less.”
Not all cities and towns want more alcohol-serving establishments.
Last year, Gloucester’s three-member Licensing Board decided not to act on a request to ask the City Council for five more licenses. Board members said they were concerned it might negatively affect other restaurants and bars in the city that had purchased licenses.
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for the CNHI newspapers. He can be reached at email@example.com.