The Boston Licensing Board could decide tomorrow whether to grant a liquor license to Wine Riot, which wants to open an app- and database-driven wine store at 519 Tremont St. in the South End.
At an unusually packed hearing today, a line of mostly Millennial residents and restaurant owners strongly backed plans by Tyler Balliet and Morgan First to turn their Wine Riot series of wine talks and podcasts into an actual store, where the inventory would feature New England products and be driven by a database of customer choices and reviews made on a Wine Riot mobile app - many after consuming the wine videos and podcasts Balliet has been busy making.
Their attorney, Karen Simao, said the store would cater to people who really want to learn about the wines they're about to consume and so would serve a fundamentally different market than the neighborhood's existing liquor stores.
The idea is just the sort of innovation Boston is known for and wants to encourage, she and supporters said. And it harkens back to the days when an earlier generation of innovators turned the once gritty South End into the happening place it is today, backers said.
"We can't get in the way of people like this, especially in the South End," Louis DiBiccari, owner of Tavern Road on the other side of Fort Point Channel, told the board. He noted the rapid expansion of residential development in the South End and said the neighborhood can more than support another liquor store.
"I'm a Millennial, I value education and innovation and, like most of us here, a nice glass of wine," said another one of the supporters, who queued up along a wall at the morning hearing.
But long-time residents, some of whom have lived in the neighborhood for decades, said they worry the store would help turn the clock back even further, to the days when there was a liquor store on every South End corner, prostitutes paraded up and down Washington Street, children ducked at the frequent sound of gunfire and people from the rest of the city tried to avoid the neighborhood at all costs.
"We really do not want to bring the South End back to that," 45-year resident Jane Siegel said.
They were joined by the owners of several South End liquor stores, who said enough, already, the South End is well served by packies - including one in the recently opened Whole Foods - and that no matter how innovative Wine Riot is, it better belongs in a less liquored-up area, such as Fort Point, the Fenway or Newbury Street. A couple of nearby liquor-store owners also said Wine Riot is not all that because they've been doing wine education for a long time.
Attorney Neil Mooney, who represented opponents, questioned the outlet's very name, saying it evoked 20-somethings loudly and boisterously consuming wine at tastings. One resident said a condo building with young children is no place for the "inebriated 20-somethings wandering around at night shouting" she predicted would be the result of wine tastings at the store. She added she would be worried the young fun-seekers would even try to cross into Roxbury and stir up actual riots, of the racial kind.
Among the opponents: Mayor Walsh. One of his aides told the board that while the mayor supports innovation, the specific location was just the wrong place for the store. City Councilor Bill Linehan, whose district includes the South End, supported the proposal, as did Councilor Tito Jackson, whose district is nearby.
Mooney handed the board petitions signed by 200 residents opposed to the proposal. Simao countered with petitions signed by more than 400 residents in favor.
Although the battle lines were mostly generational, there were exceptions. One 40-year South End resident said he appreciated the effort and money going into the proposed store, that competition is good and "who am I to interfere with that?" A mother of a 10-year-old opposed the store, saying she wants the South End to stay "the hip, yet very quiet and safe neighborhood" it is today.