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BRAINTREE

No appeal planned on liquor vote

Store owner objects to reasons for decision

By Johanna Seltz
Globe Correspondent / September 2, 2010

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The owner of a Braintree gas station and convenience store says he won’t appeal the town’s decision to deny him a license to sell beer and wine, even though he doesn’t agree the sales would hurt the “spiritual and educational activities’’ of the church across the street.

“I really want to be a good neighbor, and if I thought for a minute that what I was doing would be detrimental to the youth or anything in the church, I wouldn’t attempt it,’’ said George Jreige, who owns Mobil on the Run, at the corner of Elm and Adams streets.

“I may reapply in the future, if I can convince the church that they won’t be in any danger by my selling a bottle of wine or a six-pack of beer,’’ he said.

Mobil on the Run is within 500 feet of St. Thomas More Roman Catholic church, and the town license board was required by state law to consider the church’s opinion, according to Town Clerk Joseph Powers.

The pastor of St. Thomas More Parish sent a letter to the board saying he had concerns about Mobil on the Run selling beer and wine because of the large numbers of children and teenagers who worship and take religious classes at the church.

Alcoholics Anonymous meets at the church five days a week, another factor that made the liquor sales across the street problematic, said the Rev. James J. McCarthy.

McCarthy said the church already has experienced “property damage associated with drinking at night on isolated areas of our property in the past’’ and that 32 parishioners had told him they opposed the license.

McCarthy praised the gas station owner, but said he felt compelled to object to the license.

“Beer and wine are already amply available in the Braintree community . . . and without the social risks. I feel it important to favor the protection of the young over the convenience of their elders,’’ he wrote.

Powers said the license board also made a point of noting that the store’s owner was not a factor in the denial. “The board was unanimous that his reputation was beyond reproach,’’ Powers said.

But the board also was unanimous that selling beer and wine at Mobil on the Run would be “detrimental to the spiritual and educational activities of the St. Thomas More Parish,’’ he said.

Powers said the board also didn’t want to set a precedent of allowing beer and wine to be sold at gas stations or convenience stores, and preferred limiting their sale to alcohol stores.

“There were really two major issues, the first obviously being the situation with being within 500 feet of the church. And that certainly played a major role,’’ he said. “However, if you took [the license request] on its own merits, what we were talking about was granting to gasoline stations and convenience stores a use that had never been granted before. Was the town now going to create a new kind of license — gasoline stations-convenience stores that were going to be liquor stores?

“I didn’t see any compelling need to turn gasoline-convenience stores into liquor stores,’’ Powers said.

He said denying the license to Mobil on the Run wouldn’t unduly inconvenience customers, since there was a liquor store half a mile away in one direction, and 1.2 miles away in another direction.

The town has a quota of seven wine and malt sale licenses and only two are assigned, Powers said. He predicted that other gas stations and convenience stores would “stand in line’’ to get a license if the board had voted to give one to Mobil on the Run.

The license board, which voted on Aug. 24, comprises the town clerk, police and fire chiefs, building inspector, and director of municipal licenses and inspections.

Mobil on the Run has 30 days to appeal to the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission, Powers said.

In 1982, the owner of Grendel’s Den in Cambridge successfully sued nearby Holy Cross Armenian Catholic Church for preventing him from getting a liquor license. The case went to the US Supreme Court.

Powers said the state has since rewritten the law to make it clear that the license board, not the church, was making the decision.

Jreige said he was disappointed, but decided against an appeal.

A Lebanese immigrant who has run the gas station-shop for about 20 years, he said the license board initially seemed to favor his request. And he said the church, which he occasionally attends, also seemed amenable.

Jreige said customers had asked the convenience store to get permission to sell beer and wine, and more than 140 had signed a petition supporting the license bid.

The store had installed locks on the beverage cases where the beer and wine would have been kept.

Beer and wine would have gone in the cases closest to the cash register so the cashier could see them, Jreige said.

“We would have taken every precaution,’’ he said. “We have a very good record of not selling cigarettes to minors. . . . And it’s a neighborhood store, and everybody knows everybody.

“With all due respect to [the church’s and license board’s] opinion, I do not agree with them. But then again, I will still run the same kind of business and do whatever the church asks. . . . If they run a raffle and need something, I will give it to them.

“No hard feelings.’’

Johanna Seltz can be reached at seelenfam@verizon.net.