Seasonal businesses denied license extensions
After hearing strong pleas from year-round restaurant owners and managers, the Edgartown selectmen voted Monday not to grant liquor license extensions to seasonal restaurants. The licenses allow restaurants to serve alcohol from April 1 to Nov. 30.
Year-round operators told the selectmen that extending seasonal licenses into December especially hurts their business at a key time.
"December is a big month," Dick McAuliffe, general manager of the Harbor View Hotel and Kelley House, told the selectmen at the hearing on the seasonal extensions. When seasonal restaurants are allowed to open for a minimum of three days a week, it negatively impacts his restaurants' weekend business, he said. He added that overhead for his operations during the winter months "is huge."
Seasonal restaurant operators must make separate requests of the selectmen for any changes. They can ask for a later opening or an earlier closing, and can get license extensions that allow alcohol service up to Jan. 15.
There are 17 seasonal liquor license holders. In the past, The China House, Détente, Outerland and L'Etoile requested extensions beyond November.
At the Monday meeting other year-round operators agreed with Mr. McAuliffe. Scott Caskey of Alchemy restaurant said, "No one is making money in January through March. Everything we have by Nov. 1 will be gone by April. We're counting on November and December." He also said he tries to keep year-round staff, who have year-round obligations, such as leases. An Alchemy waitress said that working the extra months allows her to support her family.
Tony Saccoccia of the Grill on Main said the year-round restaurants like his also have to cope with weather issues, such as blizzards in the winter. He noted that most seasonal restaurants extend their licenses only through New Year's Eve, and then close. Another trying week for the year-round restaurants is the week after Thanksgiving, he said.
Although few seasonal restaurant operators attended the hearing, one, Frank Pellegrino of the Seafood Shanty, sympathized with the year-round license holders. His restaurant operation from May through October is sufficient, he said, and he has never sought to extend it.
Several restaurant owners questioned the adherence of seasonal restaurants to the three-day minimum opening on extensions, but selectman Arthur Smadbeck said since the minimum was changed from five days to three, there have been fewer problems. He said the selectmen could take action against those who don't adhere to the minimum requirement, but so far they have only issued warnings.
Before proposing the motion to change the policy, Mr. Smadbeck said seasonal restaurants have the option of staying open year round. Although the selectmen voted unanimously to make the change, selectman Michael Donaroma appeared torn on the issue, saying, "It seems a majority would not be harmed by extensions." After the meeting, he said newer seasonal restaurants like Détente could be hurt by the decision.
The selectmen agreed to revisit the issue of seasonal liquor license requirements next year at this time.
Suzanna Crowell, who co-owns Détente restaurant with her husband, Kevin, spoke briefly at the meeting in defense of the seasonal restaurant extensions, but said later she was caught by surprise by the agenda.
Later, she said that she and her husband thought they were going to the meeting to discuss the minimum number of days that seasonal restaurants are required to stay open. That discussion had been postponed from March. The couple received a letter about the original meeting, but no notice of this week's meeting, and they did not see it posted in the newspaper, she said.
"We were very surprised to find the intention of the meeting was to eliminate the extensions," she said Wednesday. She said the only way they learned of the Monday agenda was that her husband kept calling the town hall to find out when the issue was going to be rescheduled.
Ms. Crowell said she and her husband are aware how difficult it is even for year-round businesses to succeed on the Vineyard. "We face those exact same hardships," she said. "Our key employees are year-round residents. We had to go back and tell them they would have less money this year."
Ms. Crowell said she and her husband believe the issue deserves more discussion. They may ask the selectmen to revisit the issue. "We're a young couple trying to support a business and be supportive of the community," she added. "I'm not sure this is in the best interest of the community." The restaurant, in its third year, has been granted the extensions for the past two years and stayed open through New Year's Eve.
Barry Rosenthal, owner of Outerland, said he also was unaware of the meeting agenda. He was trying to make sure proper procedures were followed in scheduling it.
He said he was not too upset about the decision because it's only a month that he would have to close.