Pressley pushes for an end to cap on local liquor licenses by state

Gintautas Dumcius, News Editor
Jul. 3, 2013

Saying the 80-year-old state law that imposes limits on municipal liquor licenses is hurting small businesses in Boston, City Councillor At-Large Ayanna Pressley has launched an effort to revamp the system. Pressley, a Dorchester resident, has filed a home rule petition that would lift the cap on the number of licenses made available, an effort requiring the support of the City Council, the mayor, and the Legislature.

According to Pressley’s office, a 1933 law mandates that cities and towns have to seek Beacon Hill’s sign-off in order to receive more liquor licenses. The law was enacted in a time when state lawmakers were said to have sought to limit the powers of local government officials who were largely Irish Americans.

Pressley is pushing for the city to gain control of the process. “The current system is confusing and cost-prohibitive and the cap needs to be lifted,” she said of her initiative. “It’s gone on for far too long. We’re losing revenue and jobs to other municipalities.”

The disparity in liquor licenses in neighborhoods across the city is striking: Dozens of licenses are owned in the North End, a frequent destination for tourists, while Mattapan only has nine certificates, according to Pressley. Her petition would make new licenses non-transferable, returnable to the city after a restaurant’s closure. But existing licenses would be grandfathered and owners of those licenses would still be able to sell them.

Pressley pointed to the success of the Ashmont Grill as an example of what could await other local restaurants if they had an easier time procuring liquor or beer and wine licenses, which often come with a high price tag. The grill, owned by Chef Chris Douglas, and situated across the street from her home in the Carruth apartment complex, is an example of a thriving restaurant that has played a “critical role in incentivizing smart growth development” in the area surrounding the Ashmont MBTA Station in Dorchester. “I don’t believe the Carruth would be there if not for the success of the Ashmont Grill,” Pressley said.

She acknowledged that she has received some pushback from some who are concerned that the value of their current license will go down. “I think competition is a good thing,” she said, adding that if a restaurant already has a liquor license it will continue to do well. “You’re going to invite more foot traffic and make your neighborhood a destination location and create more spaces for the people in the neighborhood,” she said. “These are venues that build community and support neighborhoods. And we need more of them. More business growth and development begets more business growth and development.”