Vins et Viandes still pushing for North Adams package store liquor license


NORTH ADAMS -- While Vins et Viandes continues it's quest for a package store liquor license, its competition is pushing back.

Vins et Viandes, a retail beer and wine store seeking special permission for the fifth liquor license in the city, now has more than 1,400 signatures on a petition supporting its goal. But owners of other local package stores have vocally opposed the idea, and raised several hundred signatures from customers who agree.

The issue will be heard a second time by the City Council's Public Safety Committee on Aug. 19.

For Vins et Viandes to obtain the state-regulated license, it needs City Council approval for a home rule petition. If the home-rule petition is granted by the city, the store's request for a license will go before the state Legislature.

The city currently holds four package store liquor licenses and is, under state law, not allowed to grant another. The four licenses are held by West Package and Variety Store, Draper's Wine and Spirits, River Street Package Store and Whitney's Beverage Shop.

The city had a fifth license, but it was revoked by the state upon the closure of Modern Liquors on Ashland Street. State regulations allow one liquor license per every 5,000 people in a municipality, but exceptions can be made through the Legislature.

"Some comments made at the previous meeting [on June 23] insinuated V&V were skirting the law, or they were getting special treatment by them getting this far. This is a legal process that anyone could request," said Keith Bona, chairman of the Public Safety Committee.

The owners of V&V, alongside their attorneys, have argued that the store deserves a liquor license because it is a destination for visitors to North Adams and an economic driver.

Michelle Butler, who represents V&V operator Steeple City Liquors, said in May, when the issue first came before the council: "This is a good business for downtown NA. It's really a destination business."

Opponents -- namely other liquor store owners -- have defended the state regulations limiting the license, and have stated they shouldn't be exceeded.

"If [the state] creates this license, then they've opened up a can of worms, and anybody who applies for a license should be able to get one," said James Whitney, owner of Whitney's Beverage Shop, a decades-old institution in North Adams.

In initial discussion on the issue before it was referred to the public safety committee in May, the City Council appeared split on the issue.

As of Thursday, V&V boasted more 1,400 signatures on its petition, and asked its supporters on Facebook to come to the Aug. 19 meeting. The post, dated Aug. 5, claims that more than 70 percent of the V&V signatures come from North Adams residents.

The previous public safety meeting was largely dominated by those who oppose the home-rule petition.

Store management could not be reached by press time.

The entire home-rule petition issue could have been upended if the state Legislature had passed an economic development package proposed by Gov. Deval Patrick in June. The bill included a measure granting local control over the number of off-premise liquor license in a municipality, but the Legislature stripped out that portion.

"I think its important people understand this is about the City Council allowing or not allowing the applicants to go through the process of requesting the state to allow an additional license," Bona said. "Since the state is the one that controls how many licenses, I personally believe they should be the one to hear the argument and make the final decision."


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