DALTON — This time of year, bars and restaurants that hold all-alcoholic licenses usually are filing renewal paperwork to Dalton Town Hall — and writing some pretty hefty checks.
Not in 2020. In a nod to the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on this part of the local economy, town officials voted this week to waive license fees for at least the first part of 2021.
“This can be construed as a stimulus plan by the Select Board to assist a very beleaguered industry,” said John F. Boyle, a member of the Select Board and himself a former tavern-keeper.
The town’s Licensing Board voted unanimously Monday not to require payments from the 12 businesses that hold licenses to serve alcohol on their premises. The move will cut annual town revenues by about $9,600, though the board said it might reinstate fees on a prorated based as of July 1.
In an interview, Boyle said that Interim Town Manager Sandra Albano and Robert W. Bishop Jr., the Select Board chair, had been receiving requests from license-holders for a break from the fees. The licensing costs come to about $800 a year for one establishment, including the $625 main license fee and other costs for related licenses, including the common victualer credential.
Most of the businesses got scant use of the 2020 licenses they paid for a year ago.
“A good majority of them haven’t been open,” Boyle said. “Some of them may not even reopen. It’s been so devastating to them.”
Bishop said that the town’s American Legion chapter, in particular, is struggling to cover its costs, since its hall cannot be rented.
“We’re just trying to be business-friendly,” he said. “I think they’re very appreciative. These businesses are the lifeblood of the town.”
Marc Wilkinson, owner of Red’s Speakeasy at 191 East Housatonic St., said the relief is welcome.
“I haven’t taken in a dime in eight months,” he said Thursday. “I really commend Dalton for doing this.”
Wilkinson said that even restaurants that have been open, under pandemic restrictions, are hurting. Red’s Speakeasy, which he has owned for two years, closed in mid-March. The bar caters to a younger crowd and specializes in craft beers on tap. Wilkinson said that because his business is so new, he hadn’t yet built up financial reserves that could help him through the shuttered months.
“It’s been a grueling process,” he said. “I’m surprised I’ve lasted this long.”
By waiving fees, the town also enables the licenses to remain in effect. If a license-holder decided not to pay, because their business is closed, it would force them to reapply later, and face far more paperwork.
“They’d have to go through the whole process again,” Bishop said.
Other municipalities in Western Massachusetts, including Ashfield in Franklin County, have taken similar steps to ease the burden for businesses stressed by the pandemic.
Boyle said he thinks more communities should provide fee relief.
“This action could be a template for other cities and towns in the commonwealth to show their concern and support for these types of small business that have been severely impacted by COVID-19,” he said.