The Natick Select Board voted by a 4-0-1 count on Wednesday against awarding Mile 10 Spirits an all-alcohol license for a liquor store to be located at the former convenience store space at around the 10-mile mark of the Boston Marathon route on East Central Street. While the Board complimented the applicant’s business background during its nearly 2-hour discussion and deliberation, and even welcomed him to return with a revised plan, in the end he wasn’t able to make a strong enough case for meeting public need not already satisfied by 2 other package stores within about a half mile each.
It initially looked as if another convenience store, Mile 10 Market, would replace the former 7-11 at this location, as the current sign there indicates. It’s been well over a year since a sign first went up, but there have been no other signs that a store might join Shanghai Tokyo and Bill’s Pizzeria as neighbors.
So in stepped Neel Patel, of the proposed Mile 10 Spirits, who has a background in running his family’s package store in Hopkinton (we reached out to Patel last week via email for comment but did not hear back). Patel and his lawyers tried to make a case that Mile 10, as an “upscale boutique liquor store,” would be distinct from other nearby package stores through its selection of drinks and prepackaged foods, such as charcuterie boards. They also cited tastings or samplings as being a differentiator, not that Dion’s doesn’t offer this less than a half mile away.
The Mile 10 team also pointed to many people living within walking distance of the location now, and even more on the way when condos and apartments become available in the years to come at several new developments nearby.
Dean Chronopoulos, who owns neighboring Bill’s Pizzeria as well as the plaza property, also spoke in support of the liquor store opening, saying it would benefit other businesses in the strip. The idea being that people might get take-out food and grab some booze while in the plaza. Chronopoulos also said he initially got pushback in town when opening his business, and has since learned a few things and proven himself; he argued that Patel deserves such a chance to develop as a young businessperson. Bill’s itself has a wine and beer license.
The Select Board had lots of questions for Patel and his team. Kathryn Coughlin, who formerly owned Sherborn Wine & Spirits, dove into details on how Patel would actually bring in specialty products, such as craft beers, not available at other stores run by all-alcohol licensees for off-premises consumption. She expressed concern that the application for the license had been submitted for a package store, but then the plan began to change to a more upscale business without the concept being fully researched and fleshed out.
Patel acknowledged he still had work to do on the plan and the store setup, so even if the lease began on Jan. 1, he’d be opening at a later date after getting everything in order.
Coughlin also explained that there’s a business theory under which you might allow as many pizza shops that want to open in an area to open, and let them duke it out for survival. The same doesn’t apply to liquor stores due to public health reasons, she said, adding later that it gave her “no great joy” to vote to deny the application.
Coughlin waived an industry business magazine during her comments about finding distributors. A representative for the nearby Dion’s package store, however, went full-on show-and-tell later on, displaying a handle of vodka snatched from an inebriated customer and confiscated fake IDs that she used to tout the professionalism of their staff and the peace of mind that should bring the town. Dion’s Joe Dion, who has defended his business’s turf at previous Select Board meetings, stressed the negative impact that overcrowding the downtown with liquor stores could have on existing ones that have enough to deal with in battling big box store Total Wine & More.
Select Board member Paul Joseph, who has spearheaded updating of the town’s alcohol licensing rules, asked Patel about what he saw as the opportunity for for Mile 10 Spirits. Patel replied: “There’s opportunity in that location to have a thriving business there—a place that serves the community but is also going to serve as the business and help me grow as an entrepreneur.”
Joseph said he found inconsistency between Patel’s earlier response about the convenience of the location serving a public need and the idea that this shop would be an upscale boutique market. Further, he found the plan lacking in offering something different to the community. Later on, Joseph said: “We have to look at the all-alcohol license as a privilege that should be serving a broader community,” not just a specific location.
While the Board denied Patel’s bid for a license, members made clear that he could return with a refined application, or maybe even go for a lesser license for wine and beer. Members offered to share their expertise with Patel if he does decide to pursue another opportunity in town.