Town May Charge Merchants For One-day Alcohol Permits

By: Alan Pollock

Topics: Business , Municipal Finance

Chatham selectmen are considering imposing a fee on businesses seeking special one-day alcohol permits.  JIM DEMERS PHOTO

CHATHAM In the summertime, restaurants and bars aren’t the only place in downtown Chatham where you can enjoy a little wine. Increasingly, you can stop for a libation at an art gallery or a clothing store.

Having seen a big jump in the requests for special one-day alcoholic beverage permits issued to retailers and other non-foodservice businesses, selectmen are considering imposing a fee for that privilege. With the proposed $25 fee is modest – Nantucket charges $100 – it will add up. Businesses that obtain the maximum of 10 one-day permits allowed in a year would pay $250.

Selectman Cory Metters, who owns a downtown candy store, acknowledged that police haven’t reported any problems associated with the one-day permits, “but there has been a significant increase” in the number of permits issued by the board.

In the years between 2014 and 2017, selectmen issued an average of 14 permits annually, mostly to nonprofit groups like the Chatham Historical Society and the Women of Fishing Families for fundraisers or other special events. In 2018, the town issued 96 permits, with the majority going to businesses. But town officials say the number is deceiving, since it coincides with the town’s first real effort to enforce the permit requirement for businesses.

“They were probably doing it anyway,” Metters said.

Selectman Shareen Davis, who formerly owned a downtown art gallery, said the business had a wine and cheese reception every few weeks.

“We probably weren’t going about it quite as legally as we should, at the time, but I’m sure that I would’ve complied, now that I know better the regulatory process,” she said. While such events help local businesses, they are also very important to the nonprofit groups that use them to raise money or public interest.

“I wouldn’t want to limit or impede their ability to raise money,” Davis said. For that reason, she suggested that any fees be based on one rate for businesses and another for nonprofits.

“I’m interested in a nominal amount, if any at all, that reflects the actual costs of the town processing this stuff,” Selectman Jeffrey Dykens said.

Some towns, like Falmouth and Yarmouth, charge a flat fee for special one-day licenses, and others charge a differential rate by the type of license. In Wellfleet, for instance, a one-day beer and wine license is $100, with a one-day all alcohol license requiring a $150 fee. In Orleans, special one-day alcohol permits cost $25 for nonprofits and $50 for businesses.

Resident Norma Avellar said it makes sense for the town to recover the cost of processing the licenses, at least from businesses.

“The town has no business being a business partner for for-profit groups,” she said.

Board members voted to propose a fee of $25 per event for businesses, with no fee for charitable groups. The proposal will be the subject of a public hearing in the upcoming weeks.