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Elected officials oppose liquor superstore at South Bay; licensing board could decide tomorrow

The Boston Licensing Board could vote tomorrow whether to allow Total Wine to open a 23,000-square-foot store in the South Bay mall, where the OfficeMax used to be.

Acting Mayor Kim Janey and City Councilors Frank Baker, Michael Flaherty and Annissa Essaibi George all opposed the proposal at a hearing today, citing opposition among nearby residents. City Councilor Julia Mejia had earlier submitted written opposition to the proposal, but did not attend the hearing or send a representative.

Also opposing: The Massachusetts Addiction Prevention Alliance, which says a large liquor store is the absolute wrong thing to put at the edge of Methadone Mile.

Alliance President Heilman said the giant store would just prove too much of a lure for local people with additions and predicted that 75% of the store's business would be among people who would drink two handles of hard liquor a day if they could.

Nonsense, Total Wines attorney Patricia Farnsworth said: The store will not sell either nips or 40-oz. malt bottles and all the workers are connected by ear pieces to quickly roust any troublemakers - all of whom would have to come through a single entrance with a video screen right there showing that they're under surveillance while in the store. Also: Managers would always be on the store floor, alert to any potential trouble, in part because they won't have offices.

"It's just scare tactics," she said. "It's unfortunate that the electeds have voiced opposition, but I think they're listening to the wrong arguments, to be quite honest."

Legally, the board can only consider the "public need" for a liquor license at the location, not the potential impact on existing liquor stores.

Farnsworth and a Total Wines official said part of the need is that Boston in general and Dorchester in particular are growing, as shown by recent Census figures.

Need for a liquor store at the specific South Bay location, stocked with hundreds of different types of beers, wines and spirits, is shown by the license the mall Stop & Shop used to have for a liquor aisle - a license the supermarket sold to an online delivery service earlier this year.

However, that might have been the wrong argument to use for the current licensing board, two of whose members initially voted to grant Stop & Shop that license but now regret having done so.

"To be honest, that's one of the votes I regret," board member Keana Saxxon said, adding she was glad to see Stop & Shop sell the license because the liquor aisle never seemed to work well.

Fellow board member Liam Curran agreed. "When it came up to remove that license, I was happy to see that go," he said.

At a hearing on the supermarket's proposed sale, an attorney for the delivery service said the sale would actually be performing a public service by removing a liquor-license from the South Bay area.

Board Chairwoman Kathleen Joyce was not on the board when it voted to let Stop & Shop sell alcohol.

Other opponents of the proposed big-box store, who include a small-business association concerned about the impact on existing nearby liquor stores in Dorchester, the South End and South Boston, said the mall's current owner had once agreed to never allow a packie in the mall.

Farnsworth said that, too, was wrong, that there is no such agreement.

Joe Rull, who worked for the mayor's Office of Neighborhood Services at the time the mall went in under Tom Menino and who now works for a consulting group representing small businesses, said that's only because residents and officials at the time - he mentioned then Councilors Jimmy Kelley and Maureen Feeney - thought a handshake was good and so never sought to have the agreement put in writing.

Rull submitted signatures of some 2,000 nearby residents opposed to the proposal. In response to a question from Joyce about how the signatures were collected, he said they were mostly from people going to the polls during the September preliminary elections. He said the group collected some signatures at South Bay itself and might have gotten more there, except security guards spotted them and told them to leave.

Total Wine submitted 300 signatures in favor of the proposal. Also backing it is the Newmarket Business Association.

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Comments

Can people please make their own decisions (within reason) on what and where they can buy when it comes to alcohol?

I love the moronic logic of we can't have a packie close to Methadone Mile. Something tells me the supply lines of smack have been running with the efficiency and on time performance of a Japanese rail line onto Atkinson and other streets.

A place that sells Clos Pegase isn't going to change that.

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Voting closed 51

This puritanical need to micromanage when and where alcohol is purchased is dumb. Dumb. As is the preference for shitty overpriced bodegas selling a limited selection of warm alcohol.

Quote of the day here to the teetotaler in chief, heir to the tiny Dukakis throne:

Alliance President Heilman said the giant store would just prove too much of a lure for local people with additions and predicted that 75% of the store's business would be among people who would drink two handles of hard liquor a day if they could.

Two handles?! That’s impressive! They’d be dead within a week, but sure, why not, Karen!

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Voting closed 34

Yeah, that 75% stat is utterly ridiculous.

Also, as Total Wine wouldn't be located at Mass & Cass (and there are closer liquor stores to them anyway) this is almost the equivalent of telling a tent store they can't open in South Bay because some of them may be used on sidewalks.

This is a good company offering to take a vacant storefront in a shopping plaza that could use business. The goal should be to make this shopping plaza viable & busy for the local community, not cater to out-of-town addicts & sex workers who are currently living several blocks away. Can you imagine if this is how we managed Boston? "You can't open a bar there--didn't you realize there's a school 5 blocks away? Why won't someone think of the children?!?"

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Voting closed 14

This capricious, power-to-the-nimbys, influence-peddling process is precisely how permits are managed currently.

https://www.universalhub.com/2021/beacon-hill-market-fails-get-approval-...

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Voting closed 6

The current system of government created artificial scarcity and liquor licenses that can be sold, predictably leads to corruption, capriciousness, etc.

In the particular case you cite, though, neighbors complained that there was a 25 year history of the applicant being a bad neighbor: repeatedly creating a rat problem with absolutely disgusting mishandling of garbage and trash, blocking abutters' access to a public alley with trucks, and whining about being the victim every time he was called out for breaking promises to do better. They pointed out that, after one of his stores had a fire, he was caught by the city trying to sell to the public the food that had been exposed to the fire and that had been condemned by public health officials, demonstrating a cynical lack of interest in not making people sick.

When he wanted to expand his business in a way that wasn't his by right, under a process that solicits input from neighbors, the neighbors, lots of them, spoke up.

You can reasonably argue that the process gives too much power to neighbors, which can indeed result in NIMBY ridiculousness, but this wasn't a case of a couple of NIMBY cranks throwing sand in the gears, it was opposition to a historically problematic business by a broad and deep collection of people who live and work nearby.

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Voting closed 4

It's not like there's already a liquor store across from Victoria's and another just down the road in Andrew Square...

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Voting closed 13

Are the alcoholics not taking the extra walk to Liquorland like a block from the Stop&Shop?

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Voting closed 17

...is fine for the basics, but I remember going in there once looking for a bottle of Creme de Cacao liqueur (which isn't that unusual) and the clerk didn't even know what that was, which I found odd. I live down the street from there - it's a decent "small neighborhood" store. It would be great to have something nicer and better stocked within walking distance.

And SOMETHING needs to move into the eyesore that is now the abandoned Officemax. Frankly, I wish it were a Staples or another store that dealt in office products, something which Boston seems to be losing quite a lot of - but I'm just glad that someone is looking at reopening that big space.

Now if they would just reroute the buses again so that they would stop at the Stop&Shop like they used to. (What up with that???)

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Voting closed 9

I miss Office Max as well, but honestly whenever I went there I was often the only, or one of 2 people in the place. The Staples at Landmark Center closed for a similar reason.

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Voting closed 5

Staples also closed their Harvard Square store last year, seemingly without much notice.

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Voting closed 3

It seems that the only Staples in the immediate Boston area is the one near State Street. But I remember when there were two other smaller ones in the DTX area as well.

I'm tending to wonder if the closure in the Landmark Center had a lot to do with the changes happening to that entire building.

BTW - I tended to find the staff at the South Bay Office Max to be really awful - but I was still glad the store was there.

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Voting closed 3

I live in this area and walk to South Bay regularly. The area at the edge of the hotel parking lot where the fence separates it from the loading area for Best Buy/etc is a hot spot for homeless people and is always absolutely full of empty/broken alcohol containers. Something tells me this addition isn’t going to help the situation any.

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Voting closed 7

so I should be denied access to an affordable store because a hotel and a shopping center can't keep their properties clean? If I said I saw people going through the stop & shop dumpster, does that mean we should shut the grocery store down?

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Voting closed 10

Since when is it ever a good idea to think a handshake is good and so never seek to have the agreement put in writing when dealing with a property developer?

And even so, unless it's legally codified either party can always go back, and they always will, to have the original agreements modified or thrown out, especially when dealing with elected politicians whose personal views or constituency needs will change over time, or who will no longer be remembered once they leave office.

And that's where the Licensing Board comes in. If they can only legally consider public need when authorizing sales, transfers or relocations of the coveted licenses, how come most of these licenses have ended up in very few areas of the city where by virtue of the aggregate number of licenses present betrays the most basic rules of supply and demand.

Yes, Mass & Cass is an issue but it's a separate issue from permitting a retailer at a certain location and more an issue of the twenty or so licensees who are already ensconced in the surrounding area.

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Voting closed 7

Michelle Wu.

Any idea if she took a position on this license?

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Voting closed 14

Licensing was never really her thing. That will change on Nov. 16, when she becomes boss of the Office of Neighborhood Services.

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Voting closed 8

Moronic indeed.

There are still MANY package stores within a single mile (!) radius of that proposed Iocation.

I personally would rather spend my money in Boston and see they get the tax, but if they don't want the tax that's fine. We will continue to drive to the Total Wine in Medford. It's not an either /or about supporting local businesses, either. About 30% of the time we still shop local (Al's).

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Voting closed 8

down the Seaport area.

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Voting closed 9

Consistent with the monopolistic ABCC scheme. It exists to protect current license holders at the expense of the public. We pay more for alcohol to protect the profits of a small group of mostly white business owners. Why hasn’t the equity argument reached liquor sales? It’s terrible, unfair policy.

- An AEG voter

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Voting closed 14

I quit drinking a few years ago but still enjoy the taste of beer. Total wine has by an exponentially large margin the largest non alcoholic selection of beverages compared to anywhere else I've seen. I have to drive to the Braintree location once every few months so this would be a welcome addition to south bay plaza.

Anyone curious about current NA beer check out Athletic Brewing in Connecticut. 500% growth each of the last two years including a new San Diego brewery.

So I'd say this could help reduce alcohol dependence in the area.

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Voting closed 9