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Coveted liquor license once held by University Liquors available in Amherst

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Staff Writer
Friday, December 09, 2022

AMHERST — A rare occasion when an all-alcohol liquor license for a package store is up for grabs in Amherst is leading the Board of License Commissioners to ponder how to handle its eventual transfer to a new licensee.

Licensing Coordinator Steven McCarthy told the commission at its Dec. 1 meeting that one of the eight all-alcohol, off-premises licenses is back in the town’s control after management at University Liquors, at 6 University Drive, was unable to get a complete application in by the state’s Nov. 30 filing deadline.

“It’s a very unusual situation where a license that has so much demand and value becomes available and back on the town’s roster,” McCarthy said.

Noting that similar licenses can sell for more than $100,000 between private parties, McCarthy said the challenge will be setting up a process for who gets it and whether that should be a first-come, first-served basis in the new year, or a lottery, similar to how Northampton has done it in the past, including in early 2021, when India House came out the winner among seven bars and restaurants.

“There’s been a lot of interest in this,” McCarthy said.

While Amherst has licenses available in other categories, such as all-alcohol on-premises, wine and malt on-premises, and wine and malt off-premises, this was the only license type where the town had reached its quota of eight licenses. The other seven that hold all-alcohol, off-premises licenses are Amherst Wines and Spirits, Big Guy Liquors, R&P Package Store, Russell’s Liquors, Cousins Market, Spirit Haus and Watroba’s Liquors.

Commission Vice Chairman Doug Slaughter said town officials will need to bring sanity to the process so Town Hall is not overrun when it opens in the new year. “The front door of Town Hall (that day) will be a very dicey circumstance,” Slaughter said.

Establishing a rubric for who to choose, and publishing it in advance, might be a sensible approach, said commissioner Gaston de los Reyes.

The commission anticipates speaking with a town attorney at its next meeting to get further guidance.

McCarthy said businesses often find ways to hold on to their liquor licenses, such as moving the enterprise to a new location, or selling to another party. University Liquors, though, wasn’t able to pocket the license for various reasons. “They had closed and lost control of their premises sometime around August,” McCarthy said.