LOOSENING THE LICENSE CAP
FOR MANY a year coveted on-premise liquor licenses in Boston have been extremely hard to come by. That may be changing as the City Council has voted in favor of a law that would potentially revitalize city neighborhoods. City Councilor Ayanna Pressley has been working for more than two years to try and pass legislation that would put the control on the number of liquor licenses back into the hands of the Boston Licensing Board, rather than the state. In December, the Council voted 12 to 1 in favor of a home rule petition for a Special Law regarding the “Return of Authority of the Liquor License Process” to the city, which was filed by Pressley last June. The petition still needs to be signed off by the mayor and then passed by the State Legislature before it goes into effect. But the passage of the proposal by the Council helps clear the first major hurdle toward enacting change.
The bill does not support an increase in the number of licenses that could be made available for package or liquor stores. Instead, it means more wine and beer licenses could open up for restaurants citywide, particularly in neighborhoods where there’s a drought of licenses, at the discretion of the Licensing Board. Presently, the cap on licenses for cities and towns in Massachusetts is regulated by state law. In Boston, it’s capped at 65O full liquor licenses and 32O wine and malt beverage licenses. Securing one can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. The result is that some neighborhoods are over-saturated with licenses, while others barely have any. “The unnecessarily high cost of doing business makes it difficult for entrepreneurs – particularly small [and] local, minority and women-owned business enterprises – to bring innovation to the cultural, arts and culinary arenas,” Pressley said. “It unduly burdens those who wish to open small neighborhood establishments, who in some estimates rely on alcohol sales for up to a quarter of their revenue.”
The proposal, which incorporates feedback from the Licensing Board and business owners around the city, would lift the state cap, and let Boston decide how many licenses should be granted. If passed by the Legislature, licenses issued after the passage of the home rule petition will be tied to the business entity, rather than the physical location, and be restricted, meaning a license must be returned to the city if the restaurant goes out of business. It also states that the mayor will have the ultimate authority to appoint members of the Licensing Board, and the board would expand from three to five members. “The Licensing Board must consider public need and business models that fit the character and aesthetic quality of the neighborhood before issuing licenses,” according to the wording in the bill. It is also “required to make distribution of licenses a priority in Main Street districts, urban renewal areas, empowerment zones, and municipal harbor plan areas.” Those who already hold liquor licenses in Boston would be grandfathered in and “will retain the ability to sell that license as they see fit”.