Joe Dion, a fourth-generation retailer who owns Dion’s liquor store in Natick, told the Select Board this past week that he doesn’t really like public speaking. But he got his point across on the topic of newfound off-premises alcohol licenses that the town is figuring out how to handle: His business has somehow survived the presence of the big-box-retailer-that-shall-not-be-named since it arrived in 2015 but fears Dion’s won’t be so lucky if the town starts doling out a bunch more off-premises alcohol licenses.
“It will definitely go in the wrong direction, I promise you that,” he said, both about his business and the town in general.
To be clear, Select Board members emphasized, while there is interest in making the town attractive to new businesses that might offer alcohol for off-premises consumption (say a cheese or meat shop), there’s no rush to issue licenses. Criteria considered by the Board for applicants would include basics such as the number and location of existing licenses, the nature of the operation proposed, and cooperation with the town’s substance abuse prevention efforts.
“This is not the Wild West. We’re not opening the doors wide open for liquor stores on every corner,” assured Select Board member Bruce Evans.
In other words, don’t expect the downtown office being vacated by Fair & Yeager to be replaced anytime soon with a Fare & Jägermeister.
Board member Michael Hickey shared a condensed version of the town’s convoluted history surrounding the existence or non-existence of what has now turned out to be 9 off-premises consumption licenses at its disposal (1 for another traditional package store, the others for more mixed use).
The focus of an agenda item during the Nov. 30 Select Board meeting was whether or not to have a policy surrounding these licenses, and the presentation of such a draft policy (embedded below) regarding off-premise licenses.
“This board’s been very consistent in terms of the types of businesses it wants to attract, and it’s never been about necessarily about an intent of creating competition where there wasn’t,” Hickey said. “It’s intended to grow the pie, and bring new people into downtown, for example, and new and interesting types of businesses that we hear all the time that the community wants.”
The board seemed generally satisfied with the policy, but down a member for the night (and a member who has real experience in this field in Kathryn Coughlin), wasn’t voting on it. Town counsel also gave the draft a favorable review, per a statement by counsel read by Hickey.
Board member Rich Sidney said a benefit of having such a policy in place is that it gives the Board something to fall back on if it denies a license based on community standards.
Hickey says he’d like to see the Board approve the policy to be effective Jan. 1.