It’s allowed under state law, but Frank Martino may have an uphill battle in front of him now that he’s selling his liquor license for a tidy profit and hoping to get a beer and wine license from the city to replace it.
Martino, who owns on Route 1, has an agreement with to . While asking the Peabody Licensing Board to approve that transfer, he’s simultaneously asking for the lesser package store license. Both points have raised some eyebrows on the board.
Board member Charles Holden told attorneys John Keilty and Andrew Upton, who were representing Martino and Trader Joe’s Monday night, he questioned whether it was an ethical decision to make as a business owner, given the fact that Martino paid the city just $2,250 for the license and chose not to seek a beer and wine license instead (there were two available last year).
“I know it’s a business decision,” Holden said, a business owner himself. “But using a license as a profit vehicle…is it legal? Yes. Is it ethical?”
He added that it’s not often the board sees someone sell a license and ask the same day for another one.
“I have no problem with him selling the license, but I would look long and hard at him getting a new license,” Holden said.
Board Chairman Minas Dakos agreed with Holden, saying Martino’s actions . Dakos noted that the package store license was the .
“Less than a year later, he wants to sell it. Did he give it a fair run?” Dakos said.
Keilty said Martino was not looking to sell, but Trader Joe’s approached him through a broker and offered a deal as a result of a change in state law that allowed the company to seek additional licenses. Keilty said he didn’t believe Martino’s intent a year ago was ever to reap a profit on the license.
“This suddenly became valuable,” he said.
“It is what it is,” Holden responded. He noted that in most cases where a license holder wants to downgrade to beer and wine, the business will just give the full liquor license back to the city rather than selling it.
conducted by police and underage operatives this past spring and only received a warning since it was a first offense – an employee had sold alcohol to a minor after not checking for an ID. Board members gave no indication Monday that incident played into their current concerns.
In any case, the hearing was continued to Oct. 22 because Trader Joe’s first has to receive approval from the City Council to sell alcohol at its Route 114 store.
There are seven zoning districts in Peabody where package store sales are allowed – Trader Joe’s is Regional Business – and all require a special permit from the council. A public hearing has been scheduled for Sept. 27.
If the board approves the transfer and grants Martino the new license, he will have to remove some hard liquor, such as scotch and whiskey, from his store.
The board does have the discretion to reject a license application on the grounds that it is not in the best interest of the community, but whether that would just end up in a legal appeal is another story.