Liquor license decision stuns seasonal holders
Edgartown's seasonal restaurant liquor license holders are trying to regroup after being caught off guard by a vote of the Edgartown selectmen last week to end the practice of granting liquor license extensions for December, the last busy month of the year.
Two of the affected seasonal restaurant owners said they will not challenge the decision, but are considering staying open year-round. A third sees the decision as discouraging restaurants from staying open in Edgartown.
"We're thinking about going year-round," Barry Rosenthal, managing partner of Outerland, said Tuesday. Susanna Crowell, co-owner of Détente with her husband, Kevin, also said they may stay open year-round instead of dealing with the seasonal license situation.
Michael Brisson, owner of L'Etoile, said, "I think it's encouraging businesses to close sooner." He said he was grateful for the one-month extension the selectmen gave him last year when he applied for his new liquor license to reopen his 20-year-old restaurant in a different location, but he doesn't understand now why the license extension is being taken away.
"We're not stealing business," Mr. Brisson said, referring to a comment at the meeting from the general manager of the Harbor View Hotel and Kelley House. He noted that the seasonal restaurants are open only 12 days in December under the three-day a week minimum requirement.
Seasonal restaurant owners who knew about last week's selectmen's meeting thought it was scheduled to discuss the three-day weekly minimum opening requirement for seasonal restaurants. Instead, with mostly year-round restaurant owners speaking against extending the seasonal licenses, the board voted not to extend any of them beyond the normal Nov. 30 date.
Ms. Crowell was the only one present of the four seasonal restaurant owners who normally seek extensions for December. She said she was surprised by the direction of the meeting and spoke only briefly.
Mr. Rosenthal did not know about the meeting. Mr. Brisson said he received a certified letter about the meeting that morning and was late for the discussion because he had previous commitments. The China House owners, the fourth restaurant affected by the decision, were not present and could not be reached for comment.
"I have talked with other seasonal businesses and we are all equally shocked at the speed and tone of the action taken at the meeting on July 9," Mr. Rosenthal said in a written statement. "What is particularly frustrating to me is that we are ALL part of the same town...this is not a 'year-round' business issue...it's a town issue that should have proper and due process with all our constituency.
"What is also perplexing is that the local year-round businesses felt they could not compete in an open, competitive marketplace (as we have had to) and, instead have sought to diminish the competition."
Several year-round restaurant owners said at the meeting the seasonal restaurants cut into their business on the weekends in December. When seasonal restaurants are allowed to open for a minimum of three days a week, Dick McAuliffe, general manager of the Harbor View Hotel and Kelley House, said it negatively impacts his restaurants' weekend business,
"No one is making money in January through March. Everything we have by Nov. 1 will be gone by April," Scott Caskey of Alchemy, a year-round restaurant, said at the selectmen's meeting. "We're counting on November and December."
The seasonal liquor licenses are issued for April 1 through Nov. 30, and restaurant operators must get permission from the selectmen for any changes.
Ms. Crowell of Détente said she called the selectmen's office to ask about filing an appeal and was told that appeals have to go through the Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission (ABBC). When she called ABBC, she was told control was a local issue.
The liquor licensing process set out by ABBC begins with approval by a city or town authority, which sends the application to ABCC for approval. After ABBC's approval, a license is issued by the local licensing authority, which also determines the fee. The state commission does not specify regulations for seasonal licenses.
"We're trying to figure out our next step. We're trying to regroup," Ms. Crowell said, and staying open year-round is one of the options. Détente's employees are all year-round residents and depend on the extra month of employment, Ms. Crowell said.
"We face those exact same hardships," she said, referring to the year-round restaurants.
Mr. Rosenthal also noted that his family-run business is the largest function facility in Edgartown, and has a permit for more than 700 people. In a letter written also on behalf of his family, Mona, Matt, Kara and Arthur Rosenthal, that Outerland has donated its venue to more than 35 charity functions since he and his brother bought the former Hot Tin Roof club last year.
"By all accounts, we have revitalized a Vineyard institution at great cost to us personally," he said. The club cannot solely rely on summer business to survive, and the owners have to pay operating costs throughout the year, Mr. Rosenthal said, so they are considering staying open year round.
Mr. Brisson said he has run his restaurant in Edgartown for over 20 years, previously year-round at the Charlotte Inn, raised his family here, and has been very involved in the community. He described how his restaurant was decorated and lit up for the holiday season last year.
"I guess they don't want that," he said of the selectmen, who, he added, have no restaurant experience. "It wasn't up for discussion."
Mr. Brisson did not say if he would consider opening year-round again.