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Sluggish Progress on Somerville's Liquor License Home Rule Petition

State Rep. Denise Provost indicated the city's quest to issue more liquor licenses to restaurants has faced some challenges on Beacon Hill.

Somerville's effort to get permission from the state to grant more liquor licenses has faced some challenges on Beacon Hill, according to Somerville State Rep. Denise Provost, who spoke briefly to Somerville Patch about the subject on June 1.

"It's been the subject of ongoing discussions in committee," Provost said about a bill that would increase the amount of liquor licenses Somerville is able to grant to restaurants.

A matter of economic development, says city

In Massachusetts, the state limits the number of liquor licenses each community is allowed to issue to restaurants and bars. As it now stands, Somerville is limited to 84 liquor licenses and 16 beer and wine licenses, and of those, 10 have been set aside for restaurants in the new development in Assembly Square.

This state-imposed limit makes it difficult to open or expand a restaurant in a city that sees dining and entertainment as an important sector of the local economy—a sector that represents a $120 million business to the city, according to Michael Meehan, a former spokesperson for Somerville, who spoke about the issue in October, 2011. (Case in point:  recently called the restaurant scene in Somerville "so hot.")

Under the current system, new restaurants must scramble and compete against each other for the small number of licenses that are available at any given moment. Available licenses often surface only when another restaurant goes out of business.

In October of 2011, . In doing so, the city said it's an issue of economic development.

Beacon Hill has concerns

Since then, the home rule petition (House Bill 3851), has been referred to the state's Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure, and according to Provost, "There was a redraft, which does not quite allow for the number of licenses the city was seeking." (The text currently available on the Massachusetts General Court's online bill tracker does not yet reflect any changes to the bill's language.)

Provost said committee leaders have expressed concern about "practice in other communities and how much leeway other communities are granted."

Noting that some communities, such as Cambridge, do not have limits to the number of licenses they can grant, Provost said those decisions were made over two decades ago and the attitude about granting communities such autonomy has changed.

There's "a desire to keep an eye on liquor licenses and liquor license practices," Provost said.

She also said committee leaders have expressed concerns about "economic fairness."

Because their numbers are limited, liquor licenses have become expensive assets in many communities. A recently bought an available license for $125,000, according to proceedings from an April Somerville Licensing Commission meeting. In Boston, those licenses have been known to cost as much as $450,000.

More on the home rule petition

Interesting article from the Boston Globe: "For the price of a Boston liquor license... oh, never mind"

Tom O'Brien June 07, 2012 at 01:48 PM
In my opinion, one thing we don't need is more liquor licenses. This once-loved community is becoming a transient haven of bars and restaurants.
kevin thomas crowley June 07, 2012 at 02:09 PM
bars, bistros and expensive food. that's all that davis square is about these days. perhaps a bit exagerrated, but many city policies seem devoted to only transients. why don't the politicians run on the truth. motto: " condos and bars will improve our city."
Lucas Friedlaender June 07, 2012 at 06:17 PM
What's this idea that bars and restaurants = transients? Get your head out from under your couch pillow. People DO actually leave the comfort of their own home and get out. Those who think "transients" are ruining Somerville ought to come up with creative solutions to stimulate business. Their idea of spending probably takes place in Medford, Everett and Cambridge, or best yet from their own couch care of Amazon. Bring on more liquor licenses.
Mark Winterer June 07, 2012 at 06:32 PM
Somerville needs to get out of the dark ages. "Beer is proof God loves us and wants us to be happy" Benjamin Franklin.
Lucas Rogers June 13, 2012 at 02:32 AM
If the state creates an artificial shortage of liquor-serving restaurants by imposing a limit on liquor licenses, restaurant food at the restaurants that have spent the big bucks it takes to acquire a liquor license will of course be more expensive than it would be otherwise.

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