Effort Would Allow Private Liquor Store In Berlin

BERLIN — Three months after the departure of a Worcester County Department of Liquor Control (DLC) retail store in Berlin, the town is being asked to support a change to the liquor code that could open the door for private liquor retail.
Mayor Gee Williams revealed local attorney Joe Moore has requested the Town Council’s support in amending license regulations.
“He has asked that the Mayor and Council consider supporting a change to Worcester County’s liquor license requirements to allow Class D Beer, Wine and Liquor licenses to be granted in Berlin,” the mayor said.
Having such a license available in Berlin would require an amendment at the state level. It would allow the on-site and off-site sale of beer, wine and liquor, thus making it possible for a private entity to essentially fill any gap created when the DLC retail outlet left the town in September. Moore argued that there is a clear and present need for off-sale liquor within town limits.
“This is the first time since Prohibition was repealed that Berlin, in town, has not had a license for the sale of alcoholic beverages on-site, unless you’re a full service restaurant,” Moore said. “They have always been county dispensaries but at this point and time, of course, the county has moved out to Route 50 past Stephen Decatur [High School] so the people in town no longer have the ability to either walk or ride their bike.”
The county, however, has signaled it feels differently. When the DLC store in Berlin closed in September, DLC Executive Director Bobby Cowger said that he believes the town is still adequately covered by the large Shore Spirits retail store on Route 50. Shore Spirits is located about two miles east of the town’s downtown.
Therefore, it would be a mistake to add private off-sale liquor in Berlin, according to Cowger.
“I’m hoping that the Board of License Commissioners (BLC) doesn’t issue a license back there because it would hurt both of us,” he said in September. “If [the original store] would run, we would keep it there if it was really profitable, but it’s not really profitable. It did better than breakeven but it’s not worth two locations within two miles of each other.”
While the town council didn’t accept or reject Moore’s request this week, Williams, at least, has gone on the record questioning the lack of off-sale liquor within the town.
“I wish [the DLC] all the best at their new location. I think everybody wants to see the county succeed,” said the mayor in September. “But if they’re leaving Berlin, why should Berlin be the only community in Worcester County to not have a place available to buy liquor to take home in the whole county? Are we somehow different?”
Moore wasn’t able to reveal who he is representing, citing a concern that others might try to jump ahead of them in the process.
“I don’t have the authority of any of my clients,” he said. “I’m sure they would be concerned by anyone else trying to preempt the field, so to speak.”
Moore was willing to confirm that he has also reached out to the County Commissioners for their support but has not yet heard back from them.
“I suspect that if they had any problem with it they would invite me to their meeting as well,” he said. “I wanted to get the support of the county because there would be the necessity of getting the legislature changed.”
Moore hopes to approach State Senator Jim Mathias with support from both the county and the Town of Berlin. The Berlin Town Council has asked Moore to discuss his request at its next meeting on Jan. 13, 2014.