Tonight, Town Meeting will take up the issue of whether to allow the sale of alcohol in Needham—bringing to a vote a discussion that has been going on since last summer.
The home rule petition is the first step toward lifting Needham’s dry status—if approved by Town Meeting and by the state, the issue will come before voters as a ballot question.
On Tuesday, May 8, selectmen voted 4-1 in favor of the article, with Selectman John Bulian the only nay vote.
Bulian listed many reasons for his decision, including the view that allowing alcohol to be sold at retail stores in Needham would change the culture of the town, even if just a little.
“Is this going to make a big difference in the town? Probably not. Is it going to change the town—is it going to make it different than it was when we moved in here? Yeah, a little bit,” Bulian said.
He also argued that the change would not necessarily make it more convenient for residents to purchase beer and wine—many residents already frequent stores that are close by but in nearby towns—and that the locations in town where the shops could be located was rather limited.
Bulian also said he did not believe, based on the Council of Economic Advisors report, that allowing alcohol sales would benefit the town economically or fill vacant storefronts.
Selectman Moe Handel differed with Bulian on the subject of filling empty storefronts.
“This will fill vacancies,” Handel said of allowing wine and beer shops. “It’s not going to solve the vacancy problem, but there’s going to be two, three, four vacancies filled.”
Selectman Dan Matthews said he felt the issue should be brought before the public. He also said he did not think the town should further limit the number of licenses—the proposal calls for up to six at first, with a maximum of eight licenses allowed by 2018.
If Needham had fewer licenses available, and they were all claimed, businesses that wanted to come into town would essentially have to “buy their way into the market” by negotiating with a business that already had a license, Matthews said.
Selectman Matt Borrelli also felt the number of licenses should not be restricted too tightly and that having more licenses available would allow the licensing board, the selectmen, to make a “clearer decision” when applicants came in.
“We obviously have to be deliberate, cautious and thorough when issuing these licenses,” Borrelli added.
Selectman Jerry Wasserman also felt the public deserved a chance to vote on the matter.
“There are times to be leaders and there are times to listen to the public,” he said. “This is something that people care a lot about, whether they’re in favor or not, and we ought to really hear those votes and what people want us to do with this.”
Selectmen also considered some of the regulations they would set if the measure passes at Town Meeting, before it came before voters as a ballot question.
Wasserman said the Needham Board of Health had recommended four priorities, including: requiring special training of employees; restricted advertising, such as not allowing a liquor store to sponsor a Little League team; restriction of home delivery of alcohol; and allowing the Health Department to be part of a team doing compliance checks.
Selectmen also expressed an interest in prohibiting seated wine tastings, Keno or anything else that would give the shops a “hangout” atmosphere and supported requiring shops to have an “ironclad way” of verifying IDs to avoid minors using fake IDs to purchase alcohol.
The continues tonight at 7:30 p.m. in the James Hugh Powers Hall.