NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Local pouring establishments are getting some relief on license fees this coming year to help mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Licensing Board on Tuesday voted to institute a flat $100 fee for restaurants and taverns that fall under Section 12 in the state code.
"I think we need to work with these businesses because I've seen it, you know I've been here a long time, a lot of these businesses, if they go out, they don't come back," said board member Peter Breen.
The board at its last meeting had broached the idea of providing some kind of abatement or discount on this past year's fees to recognize the effect the novel coronavirus has had on this section of the hospitality industry. Some venues have had to close while others switched to takeout in the early months of the pandemic.
Annual licensing fees range from $900 to $1,575 a year or more depending on the type of establishment and alcohol license.
Those business have already paid almost $2,000 for this year, said Breen, "and we're asking them for almost another $2,000 in a month and they haven't had the doors open for eight months and some have been a little bit open."
He noted that Springfield had taken the action of waiving all renewal fees for its taverns and restaurants.
Board members acknowledged there were no major chain restaurants in the city and that its eateries could be categorized largely as "mom and pop" independent businesses. They range from young startups to long-established venues.
"The other thing that we have to think about is we actually have some licenses that have not met the stage that they need to open up in," Breen said, referring to Phase 4 of the state's reopening plan that will allow bars to reopen.
Board member Rosemari Dickinson said there were several taverns that fell in this category — HiLo, State Street T and the Mohawk — as well as several private clubs, such as the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Elks. None of these venues had a food component that would allow their opening.
A fourth club, the Greylock Club, was licensed to use its pavilion so was able to continue operating during the summer months.
"Some of the smaller licenses on the beer and wine, like Christos, and Village [Pizza], because they are a lot of takeout, they also were able to maintain their business for a longer period of time than the ones that I originally mentioned, who lost all eight or nine months of the year," Dickinson said.
In contrast, the liquor stores were able to operate within the reopening plans, although their hours may have changed slightly.
"We're looking at coming into our new year, we're looking at the facing the same," she said. "I don't see that as changing much when the new year comes in because I don't think things are going to move as quickly as we hoped they would as far as the vaccine."
Her concern was ensuring that any modifications be equitable to all the businesses as well as not impacting the city's ability to derive revenue from the fees. She was thinking more of a percentage discount. Another example is the town of Dalton, she said, which has prorated its licenses so if an establishment can't open until next July, it would pay for half rather than the whole year.
"I would rather see a percentage ... or prorated for when they open," she said. "It feels like it's fair for establishments like that, especially if we're not going to look back, if we can't look back. ...
"I think we need to brainstorm a little bit more in ideas, because I feel like $100 is just a bit too low."
Breen said he understood but noted that some establishments, like the Mohawk, probably won't open at all until next year but has already paid its fee.
"I just think that this is something that we can help with," he said. "The city North Adams has a $40 million budget, and we're talking about taking away $25,000, I think that's a good thing to save 37 businesses."
He said restaurants have been paying property and personal taxes to the city as well as the local meals tax adopted a decade ago. They also employ local people, pay their bills and contribute to the area's economic success.
Michael Obasohan, the board's newest member, sided with Breen, saying they should do what they can to help the city's small businesses.
"Any way that we can help the small businesses, again, we don't have chains in North Adams, so anything that we can keep around for the city to to keep growing, I'm all for it."
Breen asked if the dramatic reduction in fees for 2021 would help several recent closures but Dickinson said they had closed for other reasons. Korean Garden had a change in ownership and is moving to Williamstown; Parlor Cafe, which held a beer and wine license, had moved to HiLo and Gramercy Bistro had closed for good.
The board also heard a report from Dickinson on the recent meeting of the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission. She said the local licensing authority along with law enforcement and the ABCC have the ability to warn, suspend or fine establishments violating the governor's orders related to the pandemic. The ABCC has made 9,600 inspections across the state and found 97 percent of establishments were in compliance.
The commission also talked about extending permissions granted this year to outdoor dining next year. This would still be under the temporary order, Dickinson said, so any establishment wanting permanent seating would have to come before the board.
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The last couple weeks of largely pleasant weather is about to get washed out.
But instead of snow, Accuweather reports that a "rare" fall Nor'easter will bring heavy rain throughout the region this week.
"An early season tempest could bring a wind-driven, chilly rain to portions of the Northeast from Monday through Wednesday," AccuWeather meteorologist Randy Adkins said, adding that flooding could be a significant concern across southern New England.
With a late start to the fall foliage season underway across southern New England, many trees still have plenty of leaves on them, making the possibility for downed trees due to strong winds a possibility, too, according to Accuweather.
The Berkshires could get up to 8 inches of rain over the next few days. Parts of eastern New York and Southern Vermont are in line for up to 4 inches. Peak wind gusts through the Berkshire range could reach up to 80 mph.
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This debate was sponsored by iBerkshires.com and the MCLA Political Science Club, and hosted by the MCLA. It was held at the Church Street Center and attracted a robust audience of more than 150 people.
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