Boston could recover from 200 liquor licenses after the House of Representatives passes a bill

Food News

A Measure to introduce alcohol licenses for Boston's most underserved communities was advanced within the House of Representatives on Thursday almost one 12 months after the bill was delivered to Beacon Hill by Boston officials and residents.

Lawmakers approved a complete of 205 licenses, a slight decrease from the 250 licenses called for in the unique bills introduced by Representative Christopher Worrell and Senator Liz Miranda for 2023.

Broken down, the 205 additional licenses includes 180 licenses for 12 Boston ZIP codes — Roxbury, Roslindale, Mattapan, Hyde Park, West Roxbury, East Boston, Dorchester, Charlestown and Jamaica Plain — in addition to 15 for nonprofits and three licenses for establishments in Brighton's Oak Square neighborhood. There are also seven unrestricted liquor licenses.

Five licenses per zip code will probably be distributed over three years. Those five licenses include three full liquor licenses and two wine and malt-only licenses—a win for neighborhoods that sometimes have only a handful of liquor licenses available.

Proponents originally called for 250 licenses to be distributed amongst Roxbury, Dorchester, Mattapan, East Boston, Roslindale, West Roxbury and Hyde Park – five licenses per 12 months for every neighborhood over a five-year period.

These neighborhoods were chosen due to their stark differences from other Boston neighborhoods, similar to Back Bay and Seaport, where there are between 60 and 90 liquor licenses in a single neighborhood. In these zip code areas, most residents earn lower than the Boston median household income, most have minority populations, and a major variety of residents are immigrants.

Changes to the bill that passed the House of Representatives included adding Jamaica Plain and Charlestown to the list of zip codes and allowing Brighton's Oak Square to receive three licenses without delay. Reports that some lawmakers were concerned that too many licenses would fall into the hands of only barswhich is why they reserved 15 licenses for “community spaces, including outdoor areas, theaters, and other nonprofit organizations in the City of Boston,” the bill states.

The 198 licenses – including those for the three-year postcode areas, the three for Brighton and the 15 for non-profit organizations and community spaces – are non-transferable, meaning the licenses can’t be sold on the private market and have to be returned to town.

A significant change to this law affected the last seven licenses, which at the moment are unrestricted. That is, they could be utilized in any neighborhood, are transferable, and could be sold on the private market, likely for a whole lot of hundreds of dollars.

The reason lawmakers must go to the Statehouse to grant Boston liquor licenses is due to a 1933 law that limited the variety of liquor licenses available in town to under 1,000. Only in recent a long time, and after much political wrangling, have latest licenses been added to the cap. Now, the variety of licenses available locally for restaurants and bars could also be closer to 1,100.

The license restriction signifies that liquor licenses are rarely available at City Hall for the restaurants and bars that receive approval, so businesses often must turn to the private market to buy a transferable liquor license from one other business, which may cost as much as $600,000.

Despite the inclusion of unrestricted licenses within the bill, which further exacerbates Boston's already oversaturated market with expensive and unaffordable licenses, lawmakers and Mayor Michelle Wu's office reportedly seemed satisfied with the bill's initial passage.

“This legislation will bring about fundamental change by opening up economic opportunities for Boston’s communities of color and providing amenities to underserved neighborhoods,” Worrell said.

The bill now goes to the Senate, where it must pass before it lands on Governor Maura Healey's desk for signature. Healey had previously advocated local control of liquor licenses and even enshrined the liberty of local governments to set their very own cap in her Municipal Empowerment Act. But that freedom was ultimately faraway from the bill in late January.

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