North Adams' Vins & Viandes vying to sell liquor


NORTH ADAMS -- Call it a spirited debate.

The city's largest beer and wine retailer wants to sell liquor, too, but the city already has one more retail liquor license than is allowed under state regulations.

And competitors want to keep it that way.

Attorney Michele Butler of Cain, Hibbard and Myers appeared before the City Council on Tuesday to request a full liquor license for Vins et Viandes -- known as V&V.

"This is a good business for downtown NA," said Butler, who represents V&V operator Steeple City Liquors. "It's really a destination business."

Because it draws customers from around the region, Butler said, V&V is a "catalyst for economic growth."

But the city already has four retail liquor licenses -- one more than is permitted based on the city's population. To obtain a fifth license, the council would have to support a home rule petition to the state Legislature.

V&V initially made its request in 2013 before the city's licensing commission, which voted 2-1 to recommend against a home rule petition. This time, the retailer brought its request directly to the City Council, which can choose to ignore the licensing commission recommendation.

The council on Tuesday heard from proponents and opponents of the petition. Initial discussions ranged from the role of government in regulating business to protecting small, established business through the licensing process.

The proposal was referred to its Public Safety Committee, which has not yet announced a meeting date to discuss the matter.

Mayor Richard Alcombright has not said whether he supports the petition; city councilors were divided on the issue.

Councilor Kate Merrigan encouraged constituents to voice their opinions. So far, she said, reactions have been surprisingly mixed.

Councilor Benjamin Lamb commented that he has spoken with people from outside North Adams on the matter, and that "I don't know if we have another beer and wine store that draws people from outside communities."

But Councilor Wayne Wilkinson argued the city should "stand by the established business owner," and said he was "dead set against" a home rule petition.

"Let's take a minute and think about how it will affect the people that are trying to make a living now," Wilkinson said.

In response, Councilor Keith Bona argued that he didn't feel comfortable regulating who can compete and who can't.

"There's not too many businesses" for which the government can decide how many are permitted "[and] who can do it."

Butler, representing V&V, pointed out that it was only two years ago that North Adams had five liquor licenses. But when one store went out of business, the state rescinded the fifth license based on recent census numbers, she said.

David Whitney, owner of Whitney's Beverage Shop on Ashland Street, argued that the license limits exist for a reason.

"We have served the needs of this area for 76 years," Whitney said.

Richard Sheehan, of Ed's Variety Store, said he was told he couldn't get a liquor license because the city was beyond its capacity. If the city is considering a home rule petition for V&V, Sheehan argued, "I'd like to throw my name into the hat."

Councilor Jennifer Breen supported the petition, saying that turnover of liquor licenses in North Adams appears to be slow, and that she didn't want to see another "empty storefront."

"I don't think that giving one extra liquor license is going to do anything harmful to the community," Breen said.

Councilor Joshua Moran, who said he was undecided on the issue, challenged V&V to convince the council another liquor store is necessary.

"Usually you want to be known for having a lot of something in a community, and liquor stores isn't one of them," Moran said. "I just challenge you to say: ‘Why do we need five?' "

To reach Adam Shanks:
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On Twitter: @EagleAdamShanks


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