SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

July 25, 2013

City to seek more liquor licenses

Beverly: Mayor seeks to add nine to boost economic development

BY PAUL LEIGHTON
STAFF WRITER

---- — Mayor Bill Scanlon plans to ask the state for nine new liquor licenses in a move he said would boost the city’s economic development.

Scanlon has called for a special meeting of the City Council on Aug. 5. Councilors must vote to give him permission to apply for the licenses through a home-rule petition with the state Legislature.

Scanlon said the city’s restaurant business has more than doubled over the last five years, to more than $80 million per year. The city now brings in about $600,000 per year in meals taxes.

“I’ve talked to all the councilors individually and all the members of the Licensing Board individually, and they all agree the additional licenses would make sense from an economic development viewpoint,” Scanlon said.

Scanlon said the city is planning to seek three all-alcohol restaurant liquor licenses, five beer-and-wine restaurant liquor licenses and one beer-and-wine package store license.

Scanlon said one of the licenses would be for Larcom Theatre on Wallis Street, which rents out space for functions. He would not say who the other licenses are intended for.

Cities and towns in Massachusetts are allowed to issue a certain number of liquor licenses based on their population. But they can also petition the state Legislature for additional “site specific” licenses for certain locations.

Beverly received two additional licenses in recent years, for American BBQ at the Cummings Center and for the Black Cow restaurant that has yet to open on the waterfront. The city currently has 36 all-alcohol restaurant licenses and six beer-and-wine restaurant licenses.

Scanlon acknowledged that some current restaurant owners oppose giving out more liquor licenses, citing the increased competition they will create.

“People who have all-alcohol licenses generally don’t like to see any more,” he said. “But, sometimes, it turns out that when there is a cluster of restaurants in an area, it’s good for all of them. When you can’t get into one of them, you can get into another.”

Rich Marino, owner of Chianti Tuscan Restaurant on Cabot Street, said he supports expanding the number of liquor licenses in “specific strategic situations where it’s a proven benefit for the city.”

“The city must be sensitive that many of the restaurants don’t make a lot of money in the beginning of the week,” Marino said. “Restaurants have been the backbone of the economic boom in Beverly for years, and it’s important that we don’t do anything that will hurt the industry that has benefited Beverly.”

Nikita Paras, who owns two Cabot Street restaurants, Soma and Barrel House American Bar, said he doesn’t know how the added licenses will work out until it’s known what kind of businesses get them.

“If it’s a business that’s struggling because they can’t sell alcohol, why not?” he said. “They say competition is good for everybody. Since I opened Barrel House, Soma has actually gotten busier.”

Paras said he would be concerned if businesses did not have to pay for their liquor license, while current businesses have had to pay for theirs. Liquor licenses in Beverly can sell for $60,000 to $80,000, he said.

“If a restaurant bought one for $80,000 two years ago and the guy next to him gets it for nothing, it’s not an even playing field,” he said.

Scanlon said site-specific licenses are worth less because they cannot be transferred to another location. The city is, however, considering charging a fee, to be determined, for the all-alcohol site-specific restaurant licenses.

Scanlon said the beer-and-wine licenses are “unlikely to impair the business of any existing establishments.”

Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or pleighton@salemnews.com.