Tisbury beer and wine regs set, applications ready


Tisbury uncorks the town’s new wine and beer licensing process today. Applications are expected to be available at town hall for restaurants eligible to apply.

The selectmen met Tuesday night and approved a set of beer and wine licensing policies, rules, and regulations. The new regulations do not outline specific penalties for infractions. Selectmen said they would revisit that issue later, pending further discussion.

In addition to an application form for the State’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission (ABCC) and $200 fee, applicants must submit a town application form with a $300 processing fee.

Once the selectmen receive a completed beer and wine license application and required documents and paperwork, they forward it to the ABCC.

Selectman Geoghan Coogan, who is part-owner of his family’s Edgartown restaurant, The Wharf, said the licensing process takes about 6 to 8 weeks.

The selectmen voted May 3 to increase the town’s proposed annual fees for beer and wine licenses, whether year-round or seasonal, to $2,500 for restaurants and inns. Year-round licenses will be valid through December 31 and seasonal licenses from April 1 to November 1. There will be no one-day licenses granted.

Attorney Howard Miller, who served as chairman of the State’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission (ABCC) in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, attended the meeting on behalf of several restaurant owners. Mr. Miller offered a few recommendations as the selectmen reviewed the town’s draft of licensing rules Tuesday night.

Selectmen have struggled with penalties for non-compliance. At their May 3 meeting, selectman Jeff Kristal advocated setting stiff penalties, especially for violations of the requirement that a restaurant’s percentages of gross sales not exceed 35 percent for the sale of beer and wine.

Town administrator John Bugbee said Tuesday night that town counsel advised against setting well-defined penalties, because they would limit the board’s flexibility. For example, if the board sets a defined monetary penalty, then all offenders, regardless of their level of their non-compliance, would be subject to the same penalty. Selectman Tristan Israel suggested creating a sliding penalty instead.

“The idea is to keep people from turning a place into a bar,” Mr. Kristal said. But he pointed out the percentages could be skewed, if for example two diners order a $300 bottle of wine for a dinner that cost $60.

The selectmen agreed they would give the issue more thought, since they did not have to make a final decision on penalties yet. “I think we’ll find this will be a somewhat fluid document as we move through space and time,” Mr. Israel said with a smile.

In a follow-up phone call with The Times yesterday, Mr. Coogan explained that the 65-35 percentage also is tied to insurance requirements.

“With liquor liability insurance, once you get over certain thresholds, then your insurance changes,” he said. “If the ratio exceeds 65/35, it can change a restaurant’s classification to a bar or a nightclub, and so the insurance goes up.”

In general, food sales should be higher, Mr. Coogan said. “But I think we’re going to have to look at those numbers,” he added. “If a restaurant does go over the threshold, what are they selling? Are they selling a whole bunch of really expensive wine, yet their food volume is up? We’re not going to know until we see it.”

Given the variations, Mr. Coogan said he agrees with town counsel that decisions on penalties should be made on a case-by-case basis.

“If we put in a $5,000 fine for violation of the 65/35 rule, and someone comes in at 66 percent, we have no choice but to give them that fine,” Mr. Coogan explained. “Whereas, if somebody comes in at 50/50, which is not what we want, then we can only give them a $5,000 fine, when we might want to suspend their license.”

The draft of the beer and wine licensing rules and regulations document is available here.