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Newton Board Rejects Star Market Liquor License

The City Hall room was packed with residents and business owners who opposed the supermarket's application to sell beer and wine.

Despite nearly 2,500 signatures of support and a promise to police underage buyers, the Chestnut Hill Star Market was denied a liquor license last night at a public hearing in Newton. 

The Newton Board of License Commissioners voted 2-0 (one absent) to deny the application to sell beer and wine. 

"This is one of the most difficult matters that has come before this board," said Commissioner James Mitchell.

In its application, the Route 9 Star Market proposed a 1,500-square-foot area in the store to sell beer and wine, with 50 feet of beer coolers and 120 feet of wine space. The beer and wine area would be located in what is now the organic and natural food section.

Chestnut Hill Star Market Store Manager Liam Flanagan and lawyer Jon Aiete made the case last night for the supermarket, arguing that the store would offer "one-stop shopping" for its customers.

An issue of "density"

For Commissioner Mitchell, the largest issue behind the license was the addition of another liquor store in the Route 9/Chestnut Hill neighborhood, an area that currently has three package stores within walking distance of the supermarket. While the added competition is not a concern, it's the "density" of liquor stores and alcohol access in the area, he said.

"I’m not persuaded that the public good and need is being met by having a second [liquor] license under the same roof and a fourth [liquor license] within that small market area," Mitchell said.

Over the last week, residents and small business owners have stood up in opposition to the Star Market application. More than 20 of those community members showed up to the hearing last night, including the owners of Urban GrapeGPS Liquors and Winestone.

"No one else in the plaza sells groceries, but the public's access to alcohol of every type and every price point is already being met," Urban Grape Co-Owner Hadley Douglas said at the meeting last night.

Underage access

Many opponents present at last night's hearing expressed concern about the access to alcohol in the store, and whether enough measures would be in place to prevent underage sale or theft. 

Flanagan, who has worked at the Chestnut Hill Star Market for the last year and a half, said store employees would receive special training on the sale of alcohol and properly carding customers.

In addition, Flanagan said younger cashiers would not handle any alcohol and older staffers or managers would ring up customers purchasing beer or wine. The system, Flanagan said, would lock up until a proper birth date (showing the customer was 21 or older) is entered.

Despite the training and security cameras in place, Board of License Commissioners Chair Martina Jackson shared reservations about the number of underage employees at the store as well as the added alcohol access for nearby Boston College students.

Close proximity to colleges and universities, she said, "requires a lot of vigilance." 

Although she opposed the license, Jackson defended the supermarket's record in the city of Newton. The Newtonville Shaw's had a liquor section for many years, she said, and never had an issue. 

"As far as I can tell, the Newtonville [Shaw's] was very well run, but there is no college near the establishment and it was a much smaller store," Jackson said. "It was much easier to see what was going on."

Currently there are three Shaw's/Star Market stores in Massachusetts with liquor licenses. The Newtonville Shaw's lost its liquor license eight years ago when the Shaw's/Star Market companies merged and the chain had to reduce the number of stores in Massachusetts that sold liquor. 

The license application comes just a few months after Gov. Deval Patrick signed a law allowing more supermarkets in the state to hold liquor licenses. Under the bill, the cap on liquor licenses held by a store will increase from three to nine over the next eight years.

Board Chair Martina Jackson and Commissioner James Mitchell were present for the meeting while Commissioner Kathleen McCarthy was absent.

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