Lift the liquor license cap and help local economies grow

On August 8, 2014, in Latest News, by The Somerville Times

mayor_webBy Joseph A. Curtatone

(The opinions and views expressed in the commentaries of The Somerville Times belong solely to the authors of those commentaries and do not reflect the views or opinions of The Somerville Times, its staff or publishers)

Last week, the Legislature passed a bill that would grant Boston 75 new liquor licenses and give Boston the power to appoint its own liquor licensing board instead of vesting that power in the governor. The Legislature should be commended for taking this small step that supports job creation, small businesses, and economic development in growing neighborhoods. Yet this bill begs the question: If the state realizes that more licenses are required to support growing local economies, why have they neglected to lift the archaic cap on liquor licenses? Why do they hang on to an antiquated system that keeps control over the number of licenses on Beacon Hill, instead of giving that control to the people who know those communities the best—the cities and towns themselves?

The revitalization of struggling neighborhoods often starts with restaurants. Restaurants are often the first investors in a previously neglected neighborhood, acting as linchpin businesses that bring greater vibrancy and employment to newly thriving areas. But the liquor license cap often blocks the opportunity to create that spark in neighborhoods that need it the most. Our current system adds unpredictability and long delays to what should be a simpler, locally managed process.

Our local economy has reaped great benefits from the growing restaurant culture in Somerville. Since 2010, we have seen 119 net new small businesses open in the city, with much of this revitalization anchored and spurred by restaurants. Our innovation economy entrepreneurs are locating in Davis Square and Union Square, among other Somerville neighborhoods, because their employees want to be near amenities like transit and restaurants. Restaurants not only bring service industry jobs to our city, but also attract high-tech, life sciences, small businesses, and more. But this growth could and should have been greater.

Somerville asked for the liquor license cap to be lifted in 2011 through a home rule petition unanimously approved by the Board of Aldermen, but the Legislature denied it, and instead gave us a few more licenses based on the obsolete system in place With the cap still in place, we have been forced to turn down would-be entrepreneurs seeking licenses because not enough licenses were available, losing out on new potential business and the revitalizing effects of those businesses because of an arbitrary cap. As Somerville and Massachusetts as a whole strives to grow into a 21st century economy, we are hindering our own economic growth with this antiquated system.

Opening and maintaining a successful restaurant is hard enough as it is. Liquor licenses, however, can improve the likelihood of success. The mark-up on alcoholic beverages to subsidize food offered by restaurants has long been a foundation of the restaurant business model. It reduces risk for would-be restaurants owners, which in turn encourages entrepreneurship, leading to more jobs, more local businesses, and more people investing in our communities. Restaurants that cannot get a license to serve alcohol, often because of the cap, are at a great disadvantage, leading to less competition and fewer restaurants overall, as diners often choose restaurants where they can have a glass of wine, a beer, or cocktail with their meal.

If the belief is that maintaining state control over liquor licenses is a better system than local control, why is Cambridge authorized to set its own cap, effectively allowing it to issue unlimited on-premises licenses for all licenses? Cambridge’s population is only 36 percent greater than Somerville’s, but that city has issued over four times as many wine and malt licenses as we have and more than double as many all-alcoholic beverage licenses. Cambridge has issued 158 all-alcohol licenses, well above the 105 licenses it would have if subject to the quota system, and has issued 66 wine and malt licenses, triple the amount of licenses it would have under the quota system.

And this is working fine in Cambridge. What was a desolate urban office park in Kendall Square has been transformed into an increasingly active neighborhood filled with an array of dining choices, with companies filling the office space above these restaurants, and now more residences are being built in the neighborhood. Cambridge isn’t the only example. Arlington and Medford, both next door to Somerville, are allowed to issue more wine and malt licenses and the process works. A number of other communities are authorized to issue unlimited on-premises licenses for wine and malt, full liquor licenses, or both. The point is: Local control works.

Together through SomerVision and more community-driven processes over the past decade, we have undertaken diligent, patient planning efforts carefully setting a framework for future economic development. Our collective vision for that growing local economy is threatened by this obsolete cap system. The Legislature can help not only Somerville, but also every community in Massachusetts realize more jobs, more small businesses and a stronger economy by lifting the liquor license cap. Our local officials working with residents, who know our neighborhoods best, are best equipped to make responsible decisions and use discretion to determine where a liquor license should be issued and to whom. We should be allowed to determine what’s best for our communities. If we can move our laws into the 21st century, our economy will follow.


27 Responses to “Lift the liquor license cap and help local economies grow”

  1. MarketMan says:

    well said. So how do we help?

    And just FYI: I don’t drink and don’t condone drinking, but many people are responsible drinkers and it does spur economic development in areas that need it.

  2. Courtney O'Keefe says:

    As State aid continues to decrease, lifting regulations like the liquor license cap is necessary to assist municipalities in strengthening their own economy. I supported the Mayor’s 2011 home rule petition on this matter for Somerville and I supported Ayanna Pressley’s more recent submission for Boston. It is time that Massachusetts modernizes!

  3. ritepride says:

    City 4 sq miles in land area with # of liquor licenses already issued = a liquor/bar every 455 feet. So bring on more licenses so elected officials can reap white envelopes and emergency services (Police, Fire, EMS) can be needlessly tied up transporting victims of alcohol poisoning.

  4. A.Moore says:

    Can’t have enough bars in this city.

  5. PixiePocahontas says:

    Why do other towns have the ability to provide more liquor licenses like Cambrige?

    Maybe because they enforce the law when people have had too much to drink and bartenders and restaurant owners are held to higher standards. Growing up in Teele Sq., as a teen in the early 70’s, I recall the trouble in 3 bars clustered in a three block area. We still have 3 bars/restaurants there. Sure it’s cleaned up, but I would guess there are valid reasons the licenses are being denied.

    Described as the global college empire, majority within the Boston area, main reason for their desire to obtain more licenses. The drinking problems effect neighborhoods where drunken disorderly students continue their parties on neighbors lawns- and there is no real law enforcement or curtailing this behavior by college administrators because it’s bad PR for the city who enables negative intrusions into lives of residents and taxpayers. Many are responsible for cyclist road violations and J walking in busy intersections, running into traffic and crossing on green lights.

    Davis Sq., has enough bars and restaurants. The city administration keeps looking for more tax revenue that’s the only reason, it will never will be enough. My neighbors and I have been directly impacted by late night Davis Sq., drunk and disorderly violators.

    Arlington was a “dry” town as I recall and still is– that’s why their crime rate is zero. Cambridge keeps tight reigns on their student population because their residents wouldn’t put up with what we have, plus the LE budget is a King’s random compared to ours. With a combined in-lieu of Tax $20mil., combined with the millions more from commercial pharma and other corporations, I guess that’s why they can have more licenses and more freedom of choices. Unlike what we’ve got– reloader university listed at 02155, allowed to buy our RE for pennies, free reign to do as they please including, wasting our time with PHCS only to find out they mislead the advisory committee and neighborhood residents since 2009, when all along they intended to send the students and day/evening classes, 240 underground parking for administrators, while city boasts an all walkable city. What’s good for me- not you, double standards is what creates resentments.

    I say it’s a bad idea, unless we get the 02155 freeloader to start paying some serious in-lieu-of as their responsible neighbors – $3 billion endowment does not include real estate holdings by the way.

  6. Philb says:

    Davis Square may have “enough” liquor licenses, but Davis Square is not all of Somerville.

  7. PixiePocahontas says:

    Philb, obviously you have a vested interest – maybe you could share some of your infinite wisdom as to why we should have more opportunities for the drunken and disorderly. Are you trying to open a bar on lower Broadway?

  8. Philb says:

    Pixie, you really need to soften your edges. You think you know everything, you are antagonistic, you have black and white thinking, lack ability to think about multiple angles to issues, are always scanning the environment for a villain, you hate outsiders and people who didn’t grow up with you, despise anyone who is successful, etc. It is just too much. I think you should find something that makes you happy and focus on that, you can’t solve the world’s problems with your rants on here. I’d be interested in your perspective if you could write in a nice and intellectually honest way.

    To answer your random accusation, no I am not interested in opening bars. I’m just a citizen cares about East Somerville that would like it to be a vibrant place to live and for local businesses to thrive, and for there to be plenty of foot traffic, and more safe.

    I haven’t experienced problems with drunks coming out of bars as you have in your neighborhood. The only drunks that I’ve seen are people drinking out of brown paper bags on the street. I’d be interested in hearing more and discussing how we can address that in a way that doesn’t involve prohibition. The problem is you are an unreliable witness, you have a tendency to make melodramatic statements, so talking to you is not productive.

  9. PixiePocahontas says:

    A vibrant place absent of immigrants-right Phib? Was that a Freudian slip?

    I have friends who have not grown up here, who are not interested in driving out the locals as those you claim are successful. Yes, their true definition of success is to flip their condo/house they only lived in for a couple of years just to cash out and move to Lilly white suburbia. Let’s be honest– the only true successful people are those who have built businesses like the foundr of Dunkin Donuts who did do without a college education and Artie T. DeMoulas who spent his entire working life building a billion dollar business, only to have it threatened by greed of competitors and corporate raiders hired to make sure companies like DM never exist again.

    I’m entitled to my opinions like anyone else. The only reason you and your friends don’t like me posting here is because the truth hurts and you don’t like to be exposed for the obvious intentional takeover you support.

    The only people I care about are those who can no longer remain here due to the continuous greed and corruption. Some are laughing while you and your friends fall into their traps of paying too much for shanty town condo life. Good luck! Lol

  10. PixiePocahontas says:

    Here’s one on the house: tell them to hire their own inspectors from another state before signing that P&S for the million dollar condo.

    I don’t profess to know everything, but what I do know is that many honest hardworking residents like myself do not condone the outright thievery and fraud that goes on in this town.

    Yuppies or not, no one deserves to be cheated and robbed, especially those who make an HONEST living whether that be investment banking or driving a truck.

  11. Alcohol consumption is a lewd and immoral habit. It should discouraged instead of encouraged.

  12. Johhnie Jazz says:

    More bars creates more revenue and prettier women late at night. Thinking about it – from Teele sq. to Arlington there are no bars any more along Broadway – used to have the genoa (forget what is was before). I thought all the yuppies were into walking and biking? If so, there should be a bar crawling distance from every house. Cut down on drunk drivers.

    And Pix, meds off again? Also, what is up with you and the illegals? Did Paco or Manuel rock the boat for you and now you think he may get deported? Geeeez…. relax.

  13. PixiePocahontas says:

    Prettier women late at night– is that because you are already half in the bag or they keep the lights low?

    Actually I once knew a man from Mexico, by the name of Pancho Villa.

    Have you no shame? Why are you so interested in my love life anyway?
    It’s 11:43 p.m., on a Sunday night, maybe you’ll get lucky.

  14. Ron Newman says:

    I live 1.5 blocks from Davis Square and have never noticed any adverse effects from all of the licensed bars and restaurants there.

    The state should not limit licenses at all; that should be up to each municipality to decide on its own.

    Also, Arlington hasn’t been dry for some years now; it has both licensed restaurants and package stores.

  15. PixiePocahontas says:

    More bars creates more drunk drivers and deaths.
    We need commercial real estate to pay us more taxes, not more bars.
    Turning this city into Las Vegas is not my idea of progress. This town will continue to be plagued with more lawsuits, but we know that’s just what they want since it keeps the lawyers happy.

  16. sally says:

    It’s a pretty sad state of affairs when there is noone in our local government who knows how to improve the economy without creating more bars. Is that really all you can come up with? The Mayor talks a good game about needing more commercial revenue, but when it comes down to it all anyone can come up with for an idea is more bars. Interesting also, that another story in this issue is about a young man hit and killed by a drunk driver.

  17. PixiePocahontas says:


    The reason they want more bars is so they can raise taxes again on small businesses, and drive out the ones that are there since competion and high rollers now dictate this town.

    Also for student pub crawlers who keep the revenue going. Let’s not forget guys like Jazz who only see pretty women late at night. I guess having open bar rooms in the street during festivals isn’t enough.


    The reason you’re not being disturbed by late night party central is because they can’t afford to live in Davis Square.

    They walk home to Teele Square and other neighborhoods, brag at 2:00 a.m., to those of us shouting to shut up and go inside, that they have been drinking all night in Davis Square and is their right to do so.

  18. sally says:

    Ron, perhaps what you think is acceptable is not considered acceptable by others, did you ever consider that?
    And I believe the difference in Arlington is that you may only purhcase alcohol when purchasing a meal. You do not see barrooms packed to the rafters with people who are only there to drink.

  19. jake says:

    Ron, you are absolutely wrong. Perhaps you have short memory of all the issues that would take place with the rowdiness from a number of the bars in Davis, especially Sagra. I personally have seen fights break out at the Joshua Tree and other establishments. How about the Emporium, On the Hill and the Tavern? More liquor establishments create additional problems and it makes sense to control their growth or it will become like Revere with a bar on most corners.
    The real issue is that these bars are huge campaign contributors for our elected officials. Just look at the money they generate from the road races they sponsor. Its strange that in the police news that is published, rarely do you see anyone arrested for driving while impaired. You can’t tell me the patrons coming in from Medford, Arlington and Charlestown are taking the T.

  20. Charlie says:

    I agree with the Mayor 100% on this. The liquor licensing system in this state is inconsistent and a bizarre relic of past politics and it needs to change. Somerville (and every other city/town) should be able to control how many liquor licenses they issue and where they are issued. The places where new restaurants and bars have popped up in Somerville have been hugely successful. Great for the local economy. Great for residents who now have places close to home to have a nice meal or enjoy drinks with friends. And great to bring more vibrancy to the city.

  21. PixiePocahontas says:

    Charlie, which bar do you own and which job do you hold at city hall? How much have you contributed to the mayors campaign?

  22. Matt C says:

    Charlie, I’m with you let’s control this in the city with community involvement.

  23. Charlie says:

    I do not own any bars nor do I contribute to any campaigns. I’m a software developer and I’ve been a homeowner in Somerville since 2007. And I’ve see how new restaurants and bars have really helped our business districts and draw more people into them from outside the city. It’s also been nice to not have to go to Cambridge or Boston for good food and drink.

  24. jake says:

    Charlie, I agree if this was not a city hugely influenced by campaign contributions and politics. A few years back this paper reported about a liquor license that was being decided between a great Korean restaurant in Union Square ( which was the community choice because of location, menu and time in the city), a restaurant in Teele and a restauarnt located in the law building owned by the Mayors sister. Guess where the license was awarded? Turns out this same location was forced out of business because of a horrendous stabbing and illegal activities that took place once they received the license. Pretty interesting that former Alderman Roche pushed for the license and guess where he ends up….working for the Mayor. I would rather have the current process then the thought of every business owner having to line the pockets of their respective Alderman to receive their license.

  25. Charlie says:

    jake, perhaps I misunderstand your concern, but it sounds like you objected to how the city decided which business to give a license to. This would not change with the current proposal on the table (for better or worse). What it would do is remove the arbitrary state-dictated cap on the number of licenses that the city is allowed to issue. It seems like the city wants to have more licenses at their disposal, which I would think would mean that the situation that you referred to actually wouldn’t occur in the future, because BOTH businesses could have gotten a license.

  26. MarketMan says:

    Charlie: you speak with too much logic 😉

  27. Pet Peave says:

    My Best Friend is Carrie Nation…….TG my parents/grandparent/uncles and ANY other Family members did NOT drink alcohol…..for I am Sure there would be a few fluzzies and more bums out there…im trying to understand the arguement for more bars?? Did you not get the news on how many people are killed by drunks also on dope while driving? and the property damage they cause only to find out most of them had their drivers license revoked…years/months before because of damage…and maming people as well….but what the hell right….just move your home every friday and saturday night …yep put it up on wheels and go ! We Have Enough Bars……most of the people complaing are old drunks….who are used to sitting there all day…then get behind the wheel..THOSE DAYS ARE GONE ! GET OVER IT….plus the city workers would sit in them allll day…..and then get in thier cars…all cities. workers are well known for that lil sin…who the hell has 100/150 ks for a license? and yes ambulances,police the coronor, whats the matter? they dont make enough $$$ , are they not busy enough? and who is going to pay for your family members funeral when they die of alcohol poisening or killed by a drunk driver ? Have you watched the news lately? every freaking week we bury….5-7 people from drunk driving,especially during the summer…bad enough they cant drive during the winter…YIKES!

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