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Vintage year in Weston

Vote on two liquor initiatives could end dry spell in another Mass. town

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By David Abel
Globe Staff / April 28, 2008

WESTON - It's been 170 years without liquor for sale at local stores and restaurants, and Edward Michaud can't see how allowing it now would benefit this tony suburb.

"Most people in Weston have their own wine cellars anyway," said Michaud, 78, an orthodontist who has lived in the town for decades. "I'm not anti-alcohol; I drink alcohol. I just don't see any advantage to allowing alcohol to be sold."

Residents of Weston, which has banned alcohol sales since the Legislature passed a short-lived law in 1838 prohibiting the sale of spirits of quantities less than 15 gallons, will vote next month on whether to allow a supermarket to sell wine and a proposed restaurant to open with a liquor license, potentially making it the latest community in Massachusetts to abandon its dry laws.

Weston will vote less than a year after Belmont overturned its 148-year-old dry law and three years after Rockport ended its 150-year-old ban on liquor sales.

There are efforts on Martha's Vineyard to allow alcohol sales in Aquinnah and Tisbury. Alcohol sales remain banned in Alford, Chilmark, Dunstable, Gosnold, Hawley, Montgomery, West Tisbury, and Westhampton. (A century before Prohibition, communities throughout New England were swept up in the temperance movement's drive to stem the consumption of alcohol, which many saw as a blight on the country's progress.)

Officers in Rockport and Belmont said there has not been a rise in drunken driving or disorderly conduct as a result of liquor sales. "We have not had one alcohol-related arrest pertaining to the change," Rockport police Chief John McCarthy said.

In Belmont, police Lieutenant Chris Donahue said the success there has persuaded local officials to consider increasing the number of liquor licenses. "We haven't had any problems to date," he said. "I would describe it as a success."

In Weston, residents at Town Meeting voted 106 to 71 last year to approve a petition by Omni Foods supermarket to allow wine sales, and last month the town received the necessary go-ahead from the Legislature. On May 10, residents will take a final vote on whether to approve the supermarket's liquor license.

Suren Avedisian, the supermarket's owner, has posted signs on the front of his store with the question: "Do you want the convenience of buying wine with your groceries at Omni Foods?"

"It's a matter of convenience," he said, pointing out that the license would not allow the sale of beer or liquor. "A lot of people who move into the town don't realize that they can't buy wine here."

If the measure passes, Avedisian said he plans to devote about 400 square feet in the store to sell about 400 varieties of wine. "It will stimulate some additional volume, but I don't think this will be a magic pill for us," he said. "We're not going to be a liquor store; there will just be a wine section."

Last week, some of his customers worried that the wine would mean less space for other products.

"To give up shelf space for wine doesn't appeal to me," said Mary Parker, 76, who has spent most of her life in Weston. "I think there will be less of the groceries I would want to find, less variety of crackers and pet food."

Avedisian said that he plans to open extra space for the wine, and that the new display would not reduce the selection of groceries.

Other customers said it's long overdue for the town to abandon its dry laws.

"This town has to relax," said Terry Suominen, 49, who has lived in Weston for 20 years. "It seems like such an archaic law. Everyone says Weston is already the wettest of dry towns. They just go to the Whole Foods in [neighboring] Wayland. What's the difference?"

Perhaps more controversially, residents at Town Meeting on May 14 will vote on whether to approve a liquor license for a proposed restaurant in the 251-year-old Josiah Smith Tavern. A town committee that has reviewed potential uses for the underused building, which the town bought for $38,000 in 1986, determined that a restaurant would be best suited for the old tavern. But the committee also found that for any restaurant to succeed in the space, it would require a liquor license.

Some opponents of the plan, which would require a multimillion-dollar investment for renovation, say it would cost too much and that the town should use the money for other purposes.

John Noone, a candidate running for selectman next month, said it would waste town money and provide an unfair advantage to one restaurant over other town restaurants, which lack liquor licenses and are unlikely to receive them even if they apply. Any other store or restaurant would have to apply for their own liquor license.

Noone, who opposes the supermarket's liquor license for similar reasons, wants to preserve Weston's traditions. "I didn't move to Weston 14 years ago because it sells alcohol," said Noone, noting how the town in recent years rejected a resident's proposal to open a wine store. "It doesn't appear equitable to give one store owner a monopoly. This just looks like a public subsidy, and that's not fair."

Michael Harrity, one of the town's three selectmen and Noone's opponent in the upcoming election, argued that leasing the tavern to a restaurant would help the town cover the preservation costs of the tavern and the adjacent old library, which in fiscal 2007 cost about $32,000 to maintain.

"I think it's the right thing to do, because actively used buildings are an asset, and mothballed buildings are a liability," Harrity said. "We will provide access to the public, so they can enjoy the historic building."

For residents such as Christine and James Becker, it would be nice to have wine with dinner at a local restaurant.

"Not being able to have a glass of wine really detracts from the ambiance," said James Becker, 59, while shopping with his wife.

David Abel can be reached at dabel@globe.com.

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