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Massachusetts Package Stores Support Restaurant Relief — But Not If It Threatens Package Stores

The Massachusetts Package Stores Association is opposing the Restaurant Relief Act because of takeout cocktails

Shelves full of bottles of alcohol in a liquor store Nenov Brothers Images/Shutterstock

The Massachusetts Package Stores Association (MPSA) has taken aim at another piece of proposed legislation during the pandemic, and this time it affects restaurants. The MPSA lobbied state lawmakers last week in opposition to the Restaurant Relief Act, which would provide much-needed financial relief to restaurant operators and has been stalled in the Senate for over a month.

The MPSA opposes a piece of the bill (officially referred to as House Bill 4774), according to the Boston Globe, that would allow bars and restaurants to sell cocktails with takeout orders — up to 64 ounces of mixed drink per transaction — through the end of February 2021, or until the state of emergency in Massachusetts ends, whichever comes later.

MPSA executive director Rob Mellion sent senators a letter on June 30 claiming that allowing bars and restaurants to sell cocktails to go isn’t a temporary lifeline for bars and restaurants but rather like “opening Pandora’s box to making the privilege permanent.” Mellion wrote that the MPSA supports relief for restaurants — as long as relief comes in a form that doesn’t jeopardize the package store industry.

In Mellion and the MPSA’s view, the slope between a temporary salve for bars and restaurants and permanent legislation is a slippery one, and one that could result in depressing the longterm revenues for independent package store owners.

It’s yet another snag for a bill that’s sat in front of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means for more than a month. The Massachusetts House of Representatives voted on the bill nearly a month ago, passing it unanimously by a vote of 156-0. The longer the Senate fails to act on the bill, the longer restaurant operators and workers remain without much needed economic relief.

This is the second time in the past several months that the MPSA has fought to kill legislation that it feels would hurt the cohort it aims to protect. In May, the MPSA squared off with major retailer Cumberland Farms, which had proposed a ballot question that sought to grant itself and other national and international retailers access to unlimited retail beer and wine licenses in Massachusetts. (Currently, no company can have more than seven retail beer and wine licenses in Massachusetts; the number is increasing to nine this year.)

Cumberland Farms ended up dropping the ballot question for now, saying that it needs to focus more on the health and safety of customers and employees during the pandemic, but it intends to campaign to get the question on the ballot in 2022.

“It’s become clear that leading an eight-figure ballot measure campaign is not a prudent course of action at this particular moment in history,” Matt Durand, chairman of the ballot question committee and the head of public policy at Cumberland Farms, told WBUR.

Cumberland Farms was founded in the 1940s as a Rhode Island dairy farm and evolved into a convenience store in Massachusetts in the 1950s, but it is now an East Coast chain of over 500 stores owned by the Blackburn, England-based retail giant EG Group. Foiling (at least temporarily) an international mega-chain feels like a major win for MPSA and the health of small, independent businesses. But fighting to kill legislation that would overwhelmingly help other small, independent businesses — again, only temporarily — is something else entirely.

Liquor Stores, Restaurants Battle on Beacon Hill Over Expanding Booze Sales [BG]
The Massachusetts Senate Continues to Ignore the Restaurant Relief Act [EBOS]
Restaurant Relief Bill Moves Forward on Beacon Hill [BG]
Voters Will Decide If Massachusetts Retailers Can Carry Beer and Wine at More Locations, and Not Everyone Is Happy [EBOS]
Cumberland Farms Drops Beer and Wine Ballot Question [WBUR]