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Big News On The Liquor License Front

We’ve been talking a lot lately about all of the alcohol-related legislation in front of Congress right now, including the oh-so-important Small BREW Act that would ease the tax burden of the craft brewer and, in the process, lessen the cost of your beers while allowing for job creation. A win-win for everyone. But there’s a new bill in town, this one specific to New Jersey, and its potential impact is also huge. So we’ll get off of our Small BREW-soapbox a minute to give you the facts. We’re talking about the proposal introduced last Wednesday by Assemblyman John Burzichelli that would allow for a new type of liquor license in our state.

At the moment, liquor licenses are to Jersey restauranteurs what overhead waves are to Jersey surfers. First, they’re elusive; up until this point, due to leftover Prohibition-era laws, only one license per every 3,000 people in a given municipality has been permitted. Next, they’re potentially devastating. Depending on the town, a license can run over a million dollars. For any small business owner, it’s a big investment, and a big risk. Kind of like going backside on a closeout swell, you better hope it pans out.

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But the new law would temper that risk. If it passes, restaurateurs who find themselves unable to buy a license currently — either because it’s financially prohibitive or because their towns have reached maximum allowance — will have the option of purchasing a restricted version.

In other words, a business owner can pay an initial fee of between $3,000 and $10,000, depending on the size of her establishment and how many hours she wants to serve libations, in order to pour alcohol tableside only. No bars allowed. Commercial kitchen required. The option to renew comes yearly, for a cost of between $1,500 and $10,000.

“It’s designed to… help encourage the restaurant industry to flourish and to give the little guy a chance of competing,” Burzichelli told The Record. And there are many who support him, from both the consumer and BYO-owner camps. There are also many who’ve got their hackles up, claiming they’ve shelled out tremendously for the right to pour and, even though they’d be awarded tax credits for their troubles, should reap the rewards of greater license exclusivity.

We’ll keep you posted on how all this pans out. In the meantime, how about a little refresher course…