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The saga of Great Barrington’s last beer and wine license continues with a warning from Price Chopper

Freezer section at a Price Chopper

The former Price Chopper on Hubbard Avenue in Pittsfield, after its 2015 remodeling and rebranding to Market 32. That store sells beer, wine and liquor. The Great Barrington Price Chopper is again applying for the town's last beer and wine license, warning town officials that without it, there could be a large vacant storefront at the Barrington Plaza off Stockbridge Road.

GREAT BARRINGTON — They came to Town Hall bearing a warning that one of the town’s biggest taxpayers might take their money and run if they don’t get the town’s last beer and wine license.

Price Chopper representatives told the Select Board last month that alcohol sales are critical to the chain’s $4 million rebranding overhaul of the store into a Market 32. They also said a number of the town’s jobs would be lost if town officials don’t reverse an earlier decision to not grant the company the license.

But while granting it might relieve financial pressure on the town, it might also create legal pressure, given another license rejection of a competitor by the board last year.

The president of the company that owns Barrington Plaza, in which Price Chopper is an anchor store, warned at the Feb. 27 meeting that the supermarket’s lease is up in a few years, and that the store is critical to that shopping ecosystem off Stockbridge Road.

In a thinly veiled threat, he said that if the supermarket doesn’t get the license, it might also no longer have a lease.

“Our discussions with them have been pretty clear that if that does not happen, renewal of their lease is very much in question,” said David Wright, president of Westport, Conn.-based Paragon Management Group LLC, which owns the plaza. “We don’t relish the thought or possibility of having a shopping center with a 50,000-square-foot hole.”

He also warned that it would be hard to get a new tenant in that space.

The Select Board will set a new public hearing for the license at a to-be-determined date.

But legal trouble for the town is possible if Price Chopper gets the last license.

In May, the board first rejected 3-1 the application by Ankit Patel, who, along with family members, owns Patel’s Shell gas station.

In Patel’s case, the rejection was driven by concerns of two board members that selling alcohol at a gas station might lead to drinking and driving. The Shell station is on the other side of the road from the Price Chopper.

Later in May the board rejected Price Chopper’s application with a 2-2 vote. The company’s appeal with the state’s Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission is still pending.

Patel told The Eagle at the time that he planned to sue the town on grounds his gas station sales would no more contribute to drunken driving than those at Price Chopper, and that his application had come first.

Patel did not respond to messages seeking comment about his current plans. Board member Garfield Reed had recused himself from both hearings since he works for the Plaza Package liquor store, and will continue to recuse himself, he said.

‘A disadvantage’

Board member Eric Gabriel had previously voted no on Price Chopper’s application because he did not like the idea of alcohol sales in supermarkets and said he wanted to protect small businesses. Member Ed Abrahams voted no because he wanted to see how Patel’s legal action would play out should it ensue.

At the Feb. 27 meeting Abrahams said granting Price Chopper the license might make sense, practically speaking.

And Price Chopper representatives said the license is the key to the store’s competitiveness with Big Y and other grocers that sell alcohol.

“It draws consumers into our stores, and today we are at a disadvantage,” Blaine Bringhurst, president of Price Chopper, told the board. “Our fear is that without this, our sales could continue to dwindle.”

He said that would lead to a cycle of cuts to hours and jobs and so on, into the store’s demise.

Bringhurst said the store would comply with conditions for where in the store the alcohol could be sold responsibly.

The entire plaza pays property tax on a value of $15,852,100, according to the town assessor’s department. The total bill for fiscal 2023 is roughly $246,000 said town Treasurer/Tax Collector Alicia Dulin.

Dulin added that while she doesn’t have a breakdown for each business at the plaza, Price Chopper’s personal property tax bill is nearly $8,000 for the same year. Personal property would include assets like equipment and inventory.

Heather Bellow can be reached at hbellow@berkshireeagle.com or 413-329-6871.

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