, Salem, MA

January 15, 2014

Our view: Tough rulings shows cities, towns can handle alcohol enforcement

The Salem News

---- — Those wondering whether local cities and towns — and not the state — should have the power to decide how many liquor licenses are handed out should take comfort in the aggressive enforcement actions handed down in Peabody and Salem earlier this week.

In Peabody, the Licensing Board outlawed the serving of alcohol after 10 p.m. at Oliveira’s Steak House on Walnut Street. The ban, which starts Jan. 20, will last six months. Previously, the bar closed at 1 a.m.

The board was responding to complaints of lawless behavior outside the restaurant, including a stabbing and an incident in which bystanders tried to help a patron who had been arrested escape police custody.

“I’ve never seen a place where you have to go there on a continuous basis,” Peabody police Sgt. Vincent Patermo told the Licensing Board Monday. “The crowds that come out of there are pretty large. It gets volatile. ... It’s dangerous for us. ... Someone’s going to get hurt.”

An unruly crowd was behind a similarly tough judgment against a Salem establishment.

The Black Lobster’s license was suspended for two nights because of a fight outside the Bridge Street restaurant in late November. A crowd of 50 to 75 people had gathered to watch the scuffle between two patrons who left the bar, taunting police and closing in around them.

“It was a scary night, that night,” said police officer Roberson Troncoso, who was injured while making an arrest at the scene.

The aggressive actions by local licensing boards come as more North Shore cities and towns push for the right to decide on their own how many establishments in their communities can serve beer, wine and alcohol.

Peabody Mayor Ted Bettencourt is looking for 10 new liquor licenses to be used at restaurants in the downtown and at Northshore Mall. Five of those licenses would be used as part of the city’s effort to revitalize the downtown area. Adding restaurants adds foot traffic, which benefits all businesses in the area.

Beverly hopes to add four new licenses and has already picked out the establishments: Happy Clam Seafood Cafe, Larcom Theatre, Wicked Art Bar, and Half Baked Cafe and Bakery. Larcom Theatre would receive an all-alcohol license, while the other three businesses would get beer-and-wine licenses. Again, the idea is to spark the downtown economy.

Both efforts are currently working their way through the legislative process on Beacon Hill, thanks to an outdated law that allows the state House and Senate to decide what’s best for cities and towns. We have long said that local communities should have the right to decide how to best administer alcohol licenses and that the marketplace is the best way to determine how many licenses are necessary.

There are those who worry that adding licenses will bring more trouble like the recent incidents in Peabody and Salem. Of course, there’s no guarantee that wouldn’t happen. But the strong reactions from the licensing boards in those two cities show local communities are able to handle such problems on their own, without interference from the state.