State upholds North Adams Licensing Commission's decision to deny EZ Mart beer and wine license

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NORTH ADAMS — A state agency has upheld the city's decision to deny a beer and wine license to the owners of EZ Mart on Ashland Street.

The convenience store and gas station had appealed the North Adams License Commission's unanimous denial to the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission last year, culminating in a Nov. 6 hearing before the three-member board.

The License Commission decided on July 23, 2018, that while the city is not at its capacity for beer and wine licenses, there was already a sufficient density of alcohol retailers downtown and no public need for another.

"We turned their application down because of a saturation in the area," said North Adams License Commission Chairman Jeff Polucci.

EZ Mart Foods Corp. of MA, Inc. — the owners of which also hold liquor licenses in the states of New Hampshire, Maine, Pennsylvania and New Jersey — claimed that it was denied because its owner is not a resident of North Adams.

In its decision written March 7, the ABCC repeatedly cited the local license commission's broad authority to "determine public convenience, public need, and public good, with respect to whether to grant a license to sell alcoholic beverages."

"The Commission does not find EZ Mart's argument persuasive that the Local Board deemed its application because the applicant is not a resident of North Adams. Furthermore, there is no evidence in the record of these proceedings to support EZ Mart's argument," the agency's decision states.

The ABCC also noted the opposition of Kathy Lyons, an abutter to the store, who had expressed concern about the store's proximity to the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and density of alcohol establishments in the area.

"The Local Board's decision, that there is a saturation of existing package store licenses in this area meeting the public need, was based on sufficient evidence presented during the course of the public hearings," the decision states.

The city currently has four package stores that can sell beer, wine and liquor: Draper's Wine and Spirits and West Package Store are both located on State Road in the city's West End, while V&V Liquors and Whitney's Beverage Shop are located downtown and within a mile of the EZ Mart.

There are two additional stores licensed to sell beer and wine only: Ed's Variety on Union Street and Dave's Package Store on the corner of Eagle and River streets, which is also less than a mile from the EZ Mart.

The decision was revealed at the License Commission's regular meeting Tuesday.

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Representatives for EZ Mart — which purchased the former Xtra Mart station last year under North Adams Gas Realty LLC — were not present for Tuesday's meeting and could not immediately be reached for comment.

The business has 30 days following the ABCC decision to file an appeal in Superior Court.

'Too much saturation'

In new business that played out in a similar fashion, the License Commission unanimously voted on Tuesday against recommending the city move forward with a home rule petition to grant Dave's Package Store a full liquor license.

Dave's currently sells beer and wine, but owner Dave Atwell approached the board to gauge the city's interest in petitioning the state for a fifth liquor license. Ultimately, the City Council would have to approve the home rule petition, then the state Legislature.

Though it praised Atwell's operation of the store, the board again cited the density of alcohol retailers downtown.

"There's two [liquor stores] downtown, and I consider your location downtown, too, so it's my feeling there's just too much saturation," Polucci said.

Based on its current population, the city should have three full liquor licenses under state regulations, but a fourth license has been grandfathered in.

In 2014, V&V made a controversial push for a home rule petition to allow a fifth liquor license, but ultimately chose to instead follow the traditional route to purchase and transfer the liquor license of the former River Street Package Store.

Atwell did not push the issue.

"The business is strong; I like doing it," he said. "It's more of a request from people."

Adam Shanks can be reached at ashanks@berkshireeagle.com, at @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter, or 413-629-4517.


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