SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

September 20, 2013

Liquor license brings hard questions

By Alan Burke
Staff writer

---- — PEABODY — An error by the Licensing Board has led to a hurry-up fix by the City Council. Along the way, however, some councilors drew a bleak picture of what goes on in the heart of the city.

The mistake involved the granting in June of a liquor license to Marcia Pena, who runs Foster Street Market. The move was later approved by the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission. Only after Pena had begun selling beer and wine was it discovered that the liquor board had no right to grant the license. Rather, because of the zoning on Foster Street, she is required to seek a special permit from the City Council.

Lawyer Bill Delaney explained the mix-up at Thursday’s council meeting and praised the Licensing Board for its efforts to amend the mistake, expediting the process of sending Pena to the council. “They asked Miss Pena to cease and desist,” he said of his client. “She complied.” He asked the council to quickly approve the license, and he stressed that the business is and will remain primarily a convenience store.

Neighbor Leoncio Vizcaino said, “I’ve known her for a long time, so I want to support her. She’s working hard for her family.”

While acknowledging that the situation arose through no fault of Pena, Councilor Anne Manning-Martin raised concerns.

“Do we want a packy (package store) on every corner?” she asked. “There’s quite a few packies in the downtown now. ... This is about the vision of the future, of what we want for our downtown.”

“This goes to a deeper issue,” said Councilor Barry Sinewitz, explaining that while he lives in and represents West Peabody, he works in the downtown and spends most of his day there. “I don’t want to see a package store every 50 yards. ... We have a problem with vagrancy, homelessness, alcoholism. I see them behind my building shooting up.” He noted recent efforts that were designed to make the downtown more attractive.

“I think what you’re talking about is a bigger issue in terms of alcoholic beverages,” ward Councilor Arthur Athas told Manning-Martin, adding that he wasn’t ready for that discussion. He advised that the license would serve a legitimate need for those in his ward.

Councilor Dave Gamache stressed that the license would make it more convenient for people buying food for dinner and seeking, perhaps, wine to go with it. “I don’t think it’s going to be a niche for anything else.” He praised Pena for bringing local flavor with an ethnic flair.

“I’ve been in the store,” said Councilor Dave Gravel, who said he also works in the downtown and sees some of the things that Sinewitz has seen. “What’s going on in the downtown has nothing to do with these folks.”

Several praised Pena’s store. Delaney described it as “clean as a whistle.”

Councilor Barry Osborne expressed the hope that it stays a convenience store, rather than concentrating on the sale of alcohol. If so, he said, “I think it could be an asset.”

“This has nothing to do with ethnicity,” Manning-Martin said.

The license was granted on a 9 to 2 vote with only Manning-Martin and Sinewitz voting against it. Gravel, however, asked that the mayor recommend the number of liquor licenses that ought to be allowed in the downtown.

Staff writer Alan Burke can be reached at aburke@salemnews.com.