By Alan Burke
---- — PEABODY — Mayor Ted Bettencourt is seeking 10 new liquor licenses to be used at restaurants in the downtown and the Northshore Mall.
The mayor has asked the City Council to OK an effort to obtain the licenses, which would require a home rule petition to the state legislature.
Five licenses for downtown businesses would be part of the effort to revitalize commerce downtown, by bringing in restaurants that will, in turn, bring in foot traffic and benefit all businesses there, Bettencourt said. This comes following a redesign to improve traffic flow and make the downtown more attractive. He hopes to see the licenses go to “family restaurants,” he said, noting that there have already been inquires from people looking to obtain such licenses.
As for the Northshore Mall,”they obviously have more competition with the opening of MarketStreet in Lynnfield,” the mayor said, referring to the shopping center that opened recently just down the road on Route 128.
Northshore Mall manager Mark Whiting has suggested to city officials that several upscale restaurant chains would like to move to the Peabody mall if they could obtain licenses. Such restaurants would give his operation a competitive edge.
“And a healthy mall is good for our taxpayers,” the mayor said. “The Northshore Mall is extremely important to Peabody.”
The mall is the city’s largest taxpayer.
The proposal may meet some opposition in the City Council, however.
“I’m not sure I’m on the same page for more liquor licenses,” said councilor Mike Garabedian. “I think we’ve got plenty.”
An all-alcohol license for Foster Street Market was granted in September, but not without some strong misgivings. Councilor Anne Manning Martin asked at the time, for example, “Do we want a packy (package store) on every corner?”
Bettencourt said he is “not interested in more package stores,” but in all-alcohol licenses for restaurants.
Councilor Dave Gamache said he is supporting the mayor’s efforts only on the condition that these particular licenses, which are obtained from the city at a nominal fee, cannot be sold to a third party for far more.
“It’s not right that somebody should sit on a license ... and then sell it for $100,000,” he said. He cited recent examples of liquor licenses being sold for huge profits to major chains, such as Trader Joe’s, which paid $250,000 in 2012, and the Cheesecake Factory, $135,000 in 2007.
Both Gamache and the mayor said that not only would these 10 licenses revert to the city after use, but having 10 more licenses on the market, increasing the supply, would decrease the demand and lower the price overall. Should these astronomical prices persist, Bettencourt worries, small local restaurants would be cut out of the action.
“I’m fearful that it’s not going to allow mom-and-pop, family restaurants to open in our downtown,” he said.
Gamache’s Industrial and Community Development subcommittee will introduce the mayor’s proposal at 6:30 tonight.
The city’s legislators, Reps. Ted Speliotis and Leah Cole and Sen. Joan Lovely, have been notified of the mayor’s plan, and he expressed confidence that Beacon Hill will support it.
“A number of cities and town have done this and been successful,” Bettencourt said. The mayor credited City Councilor Dave Gravel, whose business is located downtown, with giving strong support to the idea.
The state limits the number of licenses for each city and town based on population.
Peabody is entitled to 55, with two additional licenses allowed for veterans clubs and one additional for Brooksby Village. Altogether, 42 licenses are dedicated to restaurants.
One restaurant license is currently available with at least one would-be restaurant owner already eager to have it.
Alan Burke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.