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City Council Agrees to Petition State for 10 More Liquor Licenses

City officials argue designated licenses for downtown will help attract mom and pop eateries while additional licenses at the mall will help keep it competitive.

Peabody City Hall
Peabody City Hall
The city is now sending a home rule petition to state lawmakers, seeking 10 new liquor licenses in Peabody.

The City Council authorized Mayor Ted Bettencourt to submit the petition last week after hearing from him and Northshore Mall General Manager Mark Whiting on why they believe the additional licenses are needed.

If successful, the intent for the new all-alcohol licenses is to split them between the downtown and the mall and will be for restaurants only.

"The mom and pop restaurant that would like to open up downtown [is] often priced out of the market," Bettencourt said, referring to the high prices liquor licenses often sell for between license holders. That could easily be $100,000 on top of the construction costs.

He said he knew of three recent interested parties in the downtown, but there were no licenses available at the time.

In order for locally-owned eateries to survive downtown, he said, they need alcohol sales as well. Bettencourt pointed to Petrillo's, Sugar Cane and Maki Sushi as examples.

He noted the proposal has been discussed among councilors before and said it will spur economic development and energize the downtown to make it more attractive.

Councilor-at-Large and local business owner Dave Gravel agreed. He noted that vacant storefronts on Main Street, such as the one next to the Music Box, could be converted into restaurants, but it would be nigh impossible for a local operation to turn a profit without alcohol.

He said the acquisition and renovation costs combined with the relatively small size of the spaces, thereby limiting the number of tables, would all pose daunting hurdles.

Gravel said that Maki Sushi at 43 Main St., in comparison, is now running a successful operation both day and night since obtaining a liquor license.

"This seems to be part of the formula for success of downtown areas," he said. "...I think we have a great case to be made to the state for the value they’ll have to Peabody and to economic development."

Five more licenses will also help the mall remain competitive, Bettencourt said, especially in light of the recent liquored restaurant additions at the MarketStreet shopping center in Lynnfield.

"A healthy mall is very good for our taxpayers... We’ve always had a good relationship with the mall and they’ve contributed [to the city] in numerous ways," he said. "We want to also support them and give them tools to help them continue to be successful."

Whiting told councilors there are currently three restaurants interested in leasing space at the mall (near Sears and Orvis), but they would need liquor licenses.

"If we were ever to expand the property like we did on the other side of the [mall near where Nordstrom is now], we would like to have at least one or two other sites available for a restaurant," Whiting said.

He noted that combined entertainment and dining, such as bowling over at the new King's in Lynnfield, is a fast growing component of the retail industry.    

For the most part, councilors were supportive of the plan but had some concerns on how the licenses would be doled out if the state legislature approves the petition.

"I will support this, but I want some assurances that we will roll it out thoughtfully and carefully. I don’t want a big flash in the pan going on downtown," said Councilor-at-Large Anne Manning-Martin.

"If this were to be approved, these licenses would go like hotcakes," she said.

Bettencourt said specific guidelines could certainly be drafted on how the licenses would be issued to successful applicants.

These licenses would also be specific to a location once they were issued.

Bettencourt said there is precedent for seeking the additional licenses, pointing to similar efforts by Salem and Beverly.

Most recently, outgoing Beverly Mayor Bill Scanlon has sought to create additional licenses to spur economic growth in the city. The latest version of the proposal is to create four licenses -- one full liquor and three beer and wine -- for specific businesses.

Councilors did discuss increasing the existing city fees ($2,250 for a restaurant license) as a measure of fairness toward current license holders who paid far more for their licenses, but no action was taken last week.

The neighboring town of Danvers currently charges $4,600 for an all-alcohol restaurant license and in Beverly, Scanlon had talked about $50,000 fees.

Councilors also asked if Centennial Industrial Park could be included in the focus area for the licenses, given that recent zoning changes now allow restaurants in the park. Bettencourt said it would be more difficult, however, to be site specific in the park than downtown. He said it could be addressed in the future.

The home rule petition will now be forwarded to the state legislature's Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure.

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