I commend City Councilor Ayanna Pressley, who has called for a hearing on how to stop the exodus of liquor licenses from the city’s outer neighborhoods to downtown Boston and the waterfront area.
Pressley will speak with her fellow councilors about her bid to change the current quota/cap system set by the state legislature on liquor licenses in Boston, which she calls an outdated relic of “Prohibition frenzy about alcohol and a power struggle between Yankee legislators and Irish-dominated local governments.”
In an “order” explaining her issue, Pressley wrote:
“The cap on the number of available liquor licenses in Boston drives up the price of licenses and the cost of doing business; and the unnecessarily high cost of doing business makes it difficult for entrepreneurs – particularly small/local-, minority-, and women-owned business enterprises – to bring innovation to the cultural, arts, and culinary arenas. And it unduly burdens entrepreneurs who wish to open small neighborhood establishments, who in some estimates rely on alcohol sales for up to a quarter of their revenue. And in certain communities in Boston, particularly in communities of color, the high cost of liquor licenses also makes it more difficult to develop the range of neighborhood entertainment and dining offerings necessary to attract and retain young professionals and families.”
For example, in the past two years, Blue Hill Avenue in Mattapan and Roxbury lost many of its bars when owners sold their licenses for several hundred thousand dollars to larger companies in the Back Bay and the South Boston waterfront.
Increasing the number of licenses available or abolishing the quote/cap completely would make it easier for smaller, mom-and-pop types of businesses to obtain a liquor license, and could help revitalize parts of the city that have fallen on hard times. It would grant more discretion to the local licensing boards (for example, in Boston) to decide whether or not a particular neighborhood and community would benefit from an additional restaurant/bar/liquor store. The Board would simply look at the applicant’s qualifications and the proposed location and vote yes/no. New York employs this system and it generally works well.
Kudos to Ms. Pressley for raising this issue and trying to get folks to take a new look at a situation that is ripe for change.