SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

November 27, 2013

Peabody liquor license request goes to Beacon Hill

By Alan Burke
Staff Writer

---- — PEABODY — The City Council has endorsed Mayor Ted Bettencourt’s effort to get 10 new restaurant liquor licenses in the city, and local legislators say they’re ready to help him do it.

The Legislature must approve a home rule petition to add the new licenses to Peabody’s quota.

Democratic state Rep. Ted Speliotis, who had a hand in drafting the bill allowing such “over quota” licenses, said he will work with the mayor and other legislators to make sure the petition is drafted and filed appropriately. “I’m here to help,” he said.

Republican state Rep. Leah Cole said, “It’s my job to bring whatever Peabody needs.”

The City Council voted Monday night to endorse the effort, which is designed to add “site specific” licenses at the Northshore Mall and in the downtown. The purpose would be to keep the mall competitive with places like MarketStreet Lynnfield and to revitalize downtown Peabody with mom and pop and ethnic restaurants meant to draw people to the area.

“A lot of mom and pop restaurants have been priced out,” Bettencourt told the council’s Industrial and Community Development subcommittee. He asked for five downtown licenses and five at the mall. “To be a successful downtown restaurant you need a liquor license.”

Councilor Dave Gravel noted that downtown Maki Sushi “was practically out of business before getting a liquor license. ... Now they’re successful.”

The added licenses, Bettencourt said, would be available only to restaurants. As “site specific” licenses they can’t be sold for huge amounts to a chain, as happened when Martino’s on Route 1 sold its license to Trader Joe’s on Route 114 for $205,000. He said he knew of three people who have been deterred from opening downtown restaurants for lack of a liquor license.

Mall manager Mark Whiting explained that his facility’s recent expansion had opened the door for more restaurants.

“We have three interested parties, all of them restaurants. ... If you look at what’s happening in Lynnfield with a complex like Kings, you can see what we’re up against.” (Kings at MarketStreet combines high-end eating, drinking and bowling.)

“Northshore Mall has been a good partner to the city,” said Bettencourt.

Councilors raised questions about fairness, since over-quota licenses are sold for nominal fees while many restaurants had to pay thousands of dollars to buy one of the nearly 60 licenses already allowed to the city. These are generally sold by someone going out of business to someone who needs a license.

“We’re going to get pushback from a lot of people who paid for their licenses,” warned Gravel.

“These licenses would go like hotcakes,” observed Councilor Anne Manning-Martin.

Such concerns are the reason behind the restrictions put on such licenses, says Speliotis, who notes cases where local restaurateurs have had to mortgage their homes to pay for a license. “Everybody has to be treated the same under the law.”

The licenses are distributed by the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission, and they will not necessarily revert to the city after use. “If after three years the restaurant goes out of business, that city loses that license,” Speliotis said.

Should the mall’s request be approved, Speliotis warns, “The City Council and everybody should realize they’re saving a large restaurant chain hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

Speliotis hasn’t spoken to the mayor about the home rule petition, but expressed a willingness to help craft the language. As to winning approval, he said, “I don’t anticipate any difficulty.” On the other hand, cities have been told in the past to scale down requests.

He expects the process could take anywhere from a year to six months.

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