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The Evolution Of Salem Liquor Licenses – Confusion Rules

One License Per Business Is Good Business

City Should Play By The Rules

By William Legault


Let’s talks about the Seasonal Liquor License as issued by the Massachusetts Alcohol Beverage Control Commission (ABCC) as used in Salem.

There are at last count, 18 kinds of liquor licenses in Massachusetts. They range from your standard license to pour all types of alcohols, to licenses that allow storage of alcohol, transport of alcohol, and also to provide alcohol to airlines, and another to allow sales of alcohol to passenger carrying ships.

In Salem we have businesses that hold all-alcohol licenses that allow the pouring of all legal alcohol products year round. We have business that hold cordials licenses, meaning they can pour flavored liquors to include some whiskeys and vodkas whose sugar content is higher than standard whiskies and vodkas. There are also year round beer & wine licenses. We have one holder of a brewers license and in the last few years we have added multiple businesses with different product specific Farmer/Brewers Pouring permits. We also have seasonal licenses that allow for pouring during a defined “limited” time frame that in reality is not very limited.  It is a dizzying array of permits that all involve a long, confusing, and frequently costly beauracratic abyss.

The seasonal license is true relic of the past.  It was designed to allow summer time businesses, and winter specific businesses to get a more affordable license. Specifically the license was meant for seaside businesses which would close somewhere around Labor Day, and ski related businesses which would open later in the year.  This license was not meant for a business which would remain open through both the summer and winter.

It allows the holder to begin pouring liquor, depending on the specifics of the license on April 1 of every calendar year. Those businesses can continue to pour until January 15 of the next year. That period constitutes the “season.”  Somehow no date was ever established to split the two seasons, so some businesses chose, and choose
to remain open the entire 42 weeks.  This makes them an reality a year-round business with legislatively reduced operational costs.   A seasonal license of any kind in Salem is dramatically cheaper than a year round license.

With the Home-Rule Petition process now in full play, it is time for the seasonal license to return to it’s true purpose. It should only be used for truly seasonal businesses.  That was the announced intention by the Salem Licensing Board a couple of years ago, but since then a change in policy has resulted in seasonal licenses being issued to business awaiting a Home-Rule approval from the legislature.  Salem also has a few businesses that hold both a seasonal all-alcohol, and a year round cordials or beer & wine license. These practices are at best a corruption of the rules if not a direct legal violation.  It was never the intention to allow a single business to hold more than one license at a time.

Is this confusing yet?  It shouldn’t be.  What makes it confusing is is that the system is being abused, albeit with good intentions.

A business should only hold one liquor license at a time.

Seasonal licenses should only be held only by truly seasonal businesses. To our knowledge there are only two in Salem, those being the Old Salem Greens golf course, and the Landing at Blaney Street.

City government should not play fast and loose with the rules no matter the circumstances. Using the seasonal license as a stop-gap for those that have applied for all-alcohol home rule licenses is not the way to do business.  Blowing a business to hold multiple licenses is also not the way to do business.  All of the lawyers in the world, nattering away in explanation cannot change these facts.

There is a conversion process for transitioning from seasonal to all-liquor licenses. It is affordable and can be done on a payment plan. The city should require any non-seasonal business, that holds a seasonal license, or that holds two licenses to convert to an all-alcohol year-round license.

In these days, when we have so many places being encouraged by the city to take advantage of the new rules, it’s time to level the playing field in a fair and consistent manner within the rules, not around the rules.

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