Do we want to revitalize downtowns, or do we want to severely restrict people from buying wine with dinner? Thanks to our still-Puritanical liquor license laws here in Massachusetts, opening a new restaurant is a major financial risk.
First, today’s good news: A restaurant is moving into a formerly run-down building on a prime piece of street-level property in downtown New Bedford, reports Auditi Guha:
A cozy Italian restaurant downtown is gearing up for a big move — into the entire first floor of the renovated historic Standard-Times building downtown.
The Licensing Board granted Portobello a full liquor license at Monday night’s hearing, pending other permits. Cafe Balena owners Pietro and Mairy Chessa said they hope to open a seven-day restaurant and offer a piano brunch on Sundays in the 3,200-square-foot space by February.
Now the shocking news: The price the restaurant owners are being asked to pay for the privilege of selling beer & wine to their customers – not to any government to fund police or schools, but to a private liquor license holder:
According to the licensing petition, the new business, via Columbus Group LLC, the developer of the old Standard-Times building, will buy a full liquor license for $65,000.
These business owners are putting their money on the line to help revitalize a city with an unemployment rate perennially stuck in double digits, and before they even open their doors, they’re out $65,000 just for the right to sell beer, wine & liquor. Another downtown New Bedford restaurant shut its doors and laid off its employees just two weeks ago, citing in part the absurdly high cost of a liquor license.
And that’s a bargain compared to Boston! “Based on online listings by license brokers and restaurant groups, a full alcohol license currently goes for no less than $250,000 in Boston,” reports Jessica Mendoza.
Who DOES the system work well for? “It works well for lawyers and brokers who’ve mastered the process, and for the elected officials to whom they contribute,” editorialized the Boston Globe. “Former state senator Dianne Wilkerson — whose district included Roxbury, a neighborhood long starved for economic development — took bribes in exchange for trying to steer a license to a local businessman.”
Communities should continue to have a say in where bars & restaurants are allowed to open, and be able to shut down troublemakers. But why should there be an additional, steep financial hurdle to clear – one where the funds don’t even go to taxpayers? Especially in a place like downtown New Bedford, why aren’t we doing everything we can to lure new businesses to serve new customers, hire new employees, and fill tax coffers?
Boston At-Large City Councillor Ayanna Pressley has been pushing to loosen restrictions on liquor licenses. If you care about revitalizing downtowns, it’s an effort you should get behind.