PEABODY — Move the spinach. There’s a liquor section on its way to Trader Joe’s.
Despite misgivings about the high cost of licenses, the City Council approved a special permit last night, allowing the Route 114 exotic foods emporium to obtain an all-alcohol license. The vote was 9-1, with only Mike Garabedian turning thumbs down.
“My problem,” Councilor Dave Gravel told Trader Joe’s lawyer Andrew Upton, “is the outrageous amount of money that would be taken from you for that license. ... The city provided that license to another vendor for next to nothing.”
The national chain has agreed to purchase the license from Martino’s Liquors and New York Deli on Route 1 for $205,000, an entirely legal exchange under state law.
Gravel lamented that the arrangement will drive up the cost of licenses in general.
“Allowing liquor licenses to be traded like rare coins has got to stop,” he said.
Upton explained that the addition of the license would not substantially change the layout of the store.
“We don’t compete with local package stores,” he added. “Trader Joe’s does not sell Bud, Miller or Coors. ... We sell specialty liquors.”
By opting for a simple beer and wine license, Councilor Arthur Athas argued, the store could avoid paying thousands to Martino’s. “Have you considered this?”
They had, Upton said, but Joe’s wants a consistent model, selling “spirits” in all stores allowed to carry alcohol.
Some ire was aimed at Martino’s owner Frank Martino. The business is expected to apply for a beer and wine license currently available from the city at a nominal cost.
“They have the audacity,” Gravel said, “to come back to the city and ask for another license. ... I’m just upset at the way the whole thing went down.”
Speaking prior to the meeting, Martino’s lawyer, Jack Keilty, explained his client was approached by Trader Joe’s merely because he was the most recent recipient of an all-alcohol license. “They thought he’d be the least attached to it.”
Councilor Bob Driscoll pronounced himself a fan and customer. With a new liquor display, he joked, “I’m wondering where you’re going to put the spinach.”
Upton smiled. “I’m assured by senior management that we will continue to sell spinach.”