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Move Over Spinach, Make Room for Alcohol

Trader Joe's received OK from City Council Thursday night to hold package store license to sell specialty beer, wine and liquors.

Without much ado, city councilors agreed Thursday night to let Trader Joe's obtain a package store license for its Route 114 location.

Councilors voted 9-1 to approve a special permit that allows the grocery store to seek or obtain an all-alcohol license for retail sales. Only Michael Garabedian voted against the petition, but did not explain his vote during the public hearing.

Councilor Bob Driscoll, a self-professed Trader Joe's fan -- just wanted to know one thing: "I'm just wondering where you're going to put the spinach," he asked with a smile.

Attorney Andrew Upton, chuckling, said "I am assured by senior management that we will continue to sell spinach."

Upton showed the council plans that only contained minimal changes to the interior of the building -- primarily shelving in the front of the store to stock the alcohol.

Now Trader Joe's is set to appear before the Licensing Board again on Oct. 22 for a public hearing to transfer the license from Martino's Liquors, which the .

It was that point that was still bothering councilor David Gravel Thursday night.

He said that while he has no problem with Trader Joe's selling alcohol, he is upset at the record-setting sale price of the license, especially considering Martino's paid the city a fraction of that price a year ago when received the new license.

And to top it off, Frank Martino is now seeking a new beer and wine package store license from the city to replace the one he's selling.

"I'm just very upset with the whole way the thing went down," Gravel said, adding Martino should have just given the license back to the city in exchange for a beer and wine one instead of driving up the market price.

"Allowing liquor licenses to be traded like rare coins has got to be stopped," he said.

Licensing Board members likewise unabashedly criticized Frank Martino for apparently making a tidy profit off one license and then attempting to get another from the city.

Attorney John Keilty told board members that Martino was first approached by Trader Joe's for the license.

Upton said Thursday the company doesn't seek to compete with typical package stores and only offers specialty beers, wines and liquors -- most of which are their own brands -- so you won't find any Budweiser, Miller or Coors Lite on the shelves.

"Quality not quanity will drive sales," he said.

Upton said alcohol sales are actually a regular part of Trader Joe's business -- most stores in California sell it -- but are just scaled back in Massachusetts because of strict license limits. But thanks to the state legislature passing a law last year increasing the limit for a single business to five licenses, Trader Joe's was able to seek two more licenses.

"They need the liquor license to give customers a full Trader Joe's experience," Upton said.

Bob Croce September 28, 2012 at 04:46 PM
It was definitely the correct vote by the city council last night. Trader Joe's is the type of responsible business that we all want to see thrive in Peabody. But to Councilor Gravel's comments, is there a way to change the rules to keep business owners from using our licensing process to heap huge profits? The Frank Martino situation looks like "spilled milk" at this point, but shouldn't we try to change the law/ordinance now -- if possible -- to ensure that this doesn't happen again? I'm also hoping that both the licensing board and the city council reject Martino's new request for a beer and wine license. Reject him, and then let him fight it out in court. This would be one law suit that might be worth fighting for on principle alone. I mean, what's going to stop this guy from selling this second license too for big dollars as his business continues to struggle? Dick and I will definitely be talking about this on our next "You Make The Call" show, Oct. 3, 8-9 p.m. on PAT Channel 99 https://www.facebook.com/calldickandbob

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