Berlin Council Supports Private Liquor Store Proposal

BERLIN — Berlin’s elected officials agree off-sale liquor should be available within town limits once again.

That was the message sent unanimously by the Town Council Monday when it voted to support a proposed change to Worcester County’s liquor code.

Berlin has been without off-sale liquor since September when the county’s Department of Liquor Control (DLC) decided to close the retail operation in town to focus on the new flag ship store on Route 50. The move was criticized at the time by Mayor Gee Williams, who repeated his complaints this week.

“What justification is there for the town of Berlin to be the only community in Worcester County to not have a store available for someone to buy liquor to take home?” he asked. “Why is Berlin different? How are we less deserving?”

Williams labeled the decision to remove Berlin’s off-sale liquor retail a “gross misjudgment” by the county. Attorney Joe Moore agreed. Moore spoke at Monday’s council meeting with the hope of getting the town behind an amendment he’s proposing that would alter liquor regulations. The change would allow for a Class D license within town limits. A Class D license permits the sale of beer, wine and liquor without food sales but requires at least a 25-seat bar on-site.

“Now, the Class D license also has limitations so that somebody is not putting together, for lack of a better word, a hole-in-the-wall liquor store somewhere,” said Moore. “A Class D license requires a person to make an investment of having 25, on-site seats for the on-sale of alcoholic beverages.”

Like the mayor, Moore was of the opinion that the county flagship store on Route 50 did not properly supply the town.

“Since the County Commissioners re-located their sales facility out past Stephen Decatur High School, I think it’s a historic fact that, for the first time since the repeal of Prohibition, the town of Berlin does not have a store where a person, either on foot, riding a bicycle or conveniently driving their vehicle within the town limits of Berlin, can buy an alcoholic beverage to take home with them. Now, beer and wine is available but liquor is not,” Moore said.

Moore noted that, especially in the summer, traffic can be an issue on Route 50.

“The county has a very nice facility out on Route 50 but people can’t walk there. Route 50 is an arterial highway in Worcester County,” he said.

One question posed by the town was whether Berlin would receive any portion of the revenue generated by any private liquor store as was the previous case with the county.

“We used to get a check between $12,000 and $18,000 a year from the county for liquor sales of the liquor store that was in the town limits,” said Michael Day, director of Economic and Community Development. “That’s my question to Mr. Moore: will that be required of a new store coming in if it’s private and not the county dispensary?”

While he said he would research that issue, Moore’s next stop is the Worcester County Commission. If the commissioners endorse the change to liquor regulations, Moore will work with state Senator Jim Mathias and Delegate Mike McDermott to advance a bill through the General Assembly, since a change to the code requires action at the state level. Moore reminded the council that even if the change is made a business will still have to apply for the Class D license in Berlin and go through the Board of License Commissioners.

“That does not mean that anybody is going to get a license,” he said. “All it means is that someone would be entitled to go to the Board of License Commissioners and make that request.”