- Written by Administrator
- Published: 18 January 2008
Foodies' owner Victor Leon of Dedham has applied for a license to sell beer and wine in his new grocery store, which he says will be a cross between a Whole Foods and a conventional supermarket with an emphasis on fresh produce, meats and customer service. Leon has operated Foodies' Urban Market in Boston's South End for ten years. He is planning a $1.4 million renovation of the store and hopes to open by September.
Selectman Betsy Sullivan recused herself from the discussion on the liquor license and left the meeting because as a banker she has had a previous business relationship with Leon, although she is not involved in financing this venture.
Leon's attorney, Robert Allen, said the area for beer and wine will occupy approximately 500 square feet of the 21,000 square foot grocery store and will be in a rear corner, making it accessible only when passing through the store. Allen said that once alcohol is scanned at checkout the cash register will lock until birth date information from a valid driver's license is entered into the register.
Leon said he is not looking to compete with local liquor stores, however, "the beer and wine does give us a competitive edge over (grocery) stores outside of Duxbury."
"I feel it is important to our viability," he said.
Foodies Urban Market in Boston does not have a liquor license, although Leon said he is pursuing one. This store sells cigarettes, and Leon said it has never had any violations.
He wants Foodies in Duxbury to be a good neighbor.
"We are committed to being a community store and being part of the fabric of Duxbury," Leon said.
Selectman Jon Witten asked Leon if he would be willing to agree to not have outdoor advertisements for alcohol and to limit the size of the section of the store that sold beer and wine to the proposed 500 square feet. Leon said he was probably agreeable to these conditions.
Attorney Gerard Caruso of Boston represented three of Duxbury's liquor stores: Duxbury Wine and Spirits, the Wine Depot and Bennett's General Store. He found fault with Leon's liquor license application, saying that it did not disclose all the people receiving a financial benefit from the liquor license. He felt the landlord should also be listed as the lease said the landlord could gain additional rent based on the store's gross revenues. He called the application incomplete and felt selectmen should deny it.
Foodies can run a profitable business in Duxbury without selling alcohol, said Caruso.
"Foodies does not need a beer and wine license to make money. They proved that in Boston," he said.
Caruso also said under state law, selectmen needed to determine if granting Foodies a beer and wine license "served a public need...and protected the common good."
As the town board that issues liquor licenses, selectmen must balance the public need against the common good.
"Your standard is whether there is a public need and whether there is an adequate number of places in the area that serve that need," said Caruso.
Caruso cited the Board of Selectmen's 1998 denial of a liquor license for Hall's Corner Store. At the time, selectmen said another liquor license did not serve the public good because there were two existing package stores in Hall's Corner and two restaurants in the area selling alcohol. There are currently four liquor license holders in Hall's Corner: The Wine Depot & Liquors, Duxbury Wine & Spirits, Tsang's Café, and the Wildflower Café.
Liquor licenses are granted by the state to towns based on population. Duxbury is allowed a total of 28 of the four different types of liquor licenses, which include wine and malt and all alcohol, on and off premises. Fifteen establishments hold liquor licenses in town. Of the five wine and malt package store licenses allowed, there are still two available.
Joe Carroll, owner of Duxbury Wine and Spirits, said selectmen should not issue Foodies a liquor license because it denied one to the Hall's Corner Store in 1998 and because in November, Duxbury residents rejected a ballot question allowing supermarkets to sell wine by a two-to-one margin. [Editor's note: See story from 1998 below]
Attorney Brian Cook, a past business association vice-president, felt the town and selectmen should do whatever it could to welcome Foodies to Duxbury.
"It's hard to overemphasize the importance of a local market to Duxbury," Cook said. "We must support him (Leon) in every way we can. This community needs a market."
Cook said the added traffic a market will bring to Duxbury's center will benefit all local businesses.
Witten said he wanted to resolve the issue of the financial benefit raised by Caruso before he dealt with the issue of public need.
While Selectmen Chairman Andre Martecchini agreed that issue should be cleared up, he didn't mind discussing the issue of public good. He was on the board of selectmen at the time of their denial of the Hall's Corner store liquor license.
"In 1998, I didn't see the public good for a small convenience store to sell alcohol, and then Exxon said that if we granted one to Hall's Corner Store then they would request one too. It had a domino effect.
"I see a public benefit of having this license granted. It is a very different circumstance, having this versus a small convenience store."
Martecchini reminded the public how they repeatedly asked for the selectmen's help in finding a market to fill the void left behind when the Grand Union closed three years ago. He said that Leon will have stiff competition from the big supermarkets in neighboring towns as well as from the big box stores.
"It's going to be tough for Mr. Leon to be a smaller operator against the big giants," said Martecchini. "I see this (liquor license) as trying to make this store successful."
Witten felt it was important for selectmen not to appear arbitrary when deciding about Foodies' liquor license because the state Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission would be reviewing their decision.
"We have to not seem arbitrary," said Witten. "Is it not arbitrary to say no? And I'm stuck on the public need a 500 square foot area will provide."
No vote was taken on the license. With one selectman abstaining, both remaining selectmen must vote in favor of the license for it to be approved. The public hearing will be continued until May 14 at 7:35 pm.