New Jersey has very a very old and restrictive system in place for restaurants to get a liquor license, but things could soon be changing.

Right now, the state only permits one liquor license to be issued for every 3,000 residents in a town. That shortage means that the cost for obtaining a license can be staggering — in some cases more than a million dollars.

But Assemblyman John Burzichelli, D-Gloucester, is pushing a plan to make it easier for many more restaurants to be able to serve alcoholic beverages.

His legislation calls for a whole new class of licenses, and “it would be only for table service, so it does not create an environment for more corner bars or operations that could be nuisances.”

The cost of this new type of liquor license, depending on what types of alcohol would be served — some restaurants, for example, could opt to only serve beer and wine — and the size of the restaurant, would range between $1,500 and $5,000.

“The idea is to make these licenses readily available, not costing millions of dollars, so the small businessman who wants to be in the restaurant business and meets the criteria, can in fact get a license to serve alcohol,” he said. “It will give them a better chance to be successful in business,while giving communities a vibrant restaurant scene.”

Burzichelli says mayors across New Jersey are struggling to revitalize their downtowns, and planners recognize that a vibrant restaurant scene goes a long way in making communities exciting again. He said while some towns make do with only one or two restaurants having a liquor license, many high growth areas can’t develop their restaurant scene.

As for restaurateurs who already paid a fortune to get their existing liquor licenses, the lawmaker's proposal addresses them, too.

Burzichelli said under his plan, if you already have a liquor license and you can demonstrate the value of your existing license has been adversely affected, you would be entitled to "transferrable tax credits that you could either sell to someone else or you could use them against your own taxes.”

“It’s very important that the legislation demonstrate fairness and puts in place a process where a person can make a claim if in fact they have been harmed," he says.

Flemington Mayor Phil Greiner likes the sound of the Burzichelli plan.

“Anything that loosens up the very tight nature of the regulation right now would be good and would spur business,” he said.

Greiner explained that in his town they’ve had some “acute problems with liquor license restrictions that actually caused a couple of redevelopment projects to fall through, because they could not get a license at a reasonable price, so anything that would bring the price of a liquor license back into reality would be very helpful.”

Marilou Halvorsen, the president of the New Jersey Restaurant and Hospitality association, said “we have concerns about the plan, specifically when it comes to the compensation that would be given to restaurants that already have licenses, that’s an important part of this. However, we also understand there is a need in certain parts of the state for additional liquor licenses, so it’s something that we need to look at very carefully.”

 

Burzichelli says adding liquor licenses could boost the state's economy.

“I think the information we have clearly makes the case that there will be more benefits than there will be costs to this and we can be very fair to existing license holders.”

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