It’s been difficult for small businesses to operate due to the restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s been really difficult for bars and restaurant owners, because the small establishments in the Berkshires that sell alcoholic beverages without food service haven’t been able to open at all. Some municipalities in the Berkshires appear to have recognized that fact this year by either reducing or cutting the annual license renewal fees to give these business owners some needed relief.
North Adams became the latest municipality to do so when the city’s Licensing Board on Wednesday voted to lower the annual renewal fee for liquor license holders that operate bars and restaurants to $100 (the fee reduction does not apply to liquor or package store owners because they are not subject to the same restrictions). Bars and restaurants in Massachusetts that don’t serve food can’t re-open until Phase Four of the state’s re-opening plan, when either a vaccine or related treatments are available for normal operations to resume. The establishments that fit into that category in North Adams include the State Street Tavern, HiLo and The Mohawk Tavern, and three private clubs, the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Elks.
“It’s a little bit of help,” said Bob Cellana, who co-owns State Street Tavern with Dennis St. Pierre. State Street, which has been in the city for 30 years, has been closed since March, and is is currently staring at a long winter with no revenue. The bar currently runs a humidifier just to keep mold from growing on the walls.
But every little bit does help. St. Pierre and Cellana paid $1,575 to the city to renew their liquor license for this year, a document that they only got to use for three months. Considering annual license renewal fees for North Adams bar and restaurant liquor license holders normally range between $900 and $1.575, this reduction represents significant savings to bar owners like St. Pierre and Cellana. They are still required to pay for insurance, electricity and hearing on establishments that are legally prohibited from opening. That takes a significant toll on their finances.
“If we had a mortgage to pay, we’d already be gone,” St. Pierre told The Eagle.
The town of Dalton has also taken similar action to help the owners of these struggling enterprises, although in a different way. Town officials decided to waive the renewal fee for liquor license holders completely this year, although they indicated they might charge license holders a pro-rated fee later in 2021. North Adams considered taking similar action, but decided not to because there were concerns that bars and restaurants would still struggle to pay the full fee when they are finally allowed to open.
A vaccine for COVID-19 is on the way, but no one is sure when it will actually get here. Given those circumstances, North Adams and Dalton should be commended for reducing license feels for small business owners who are often the backbone of the community. We hope other Berkshire municipalities will follow their example.