West Milford accepting bids for first distribution liquor license

Liquor store owners worried about ‘unfair competition’

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  • Plaza Bar & Liquors sits right next to the empty A&P store in West Milford. Its owner, Si Huang, is one of several business folks worried that a new distribution license will create "unfair competition." Photo by don webb

  • The owner of Greenwood Lake Discount Liquors in West Milford is protesting a new distribution ordinance he and others feel will harm their businesses. photo by Don Webb


West Milford Township is selling its first distribution liquor license, accepting competitive bids of at least $250,000, but some local liquor store owners are not happy about the decision.

After receiving some inquiries about a distribution license, the township council decided to put one license out for bid, according to government officials, with the goal of revitalizing the economy and filling some of the vacant retail space within the town. The decision has left several of the other consumption liquor license holders within the township concerned about how a larger liquor store or supermarket moving in could impact their businesses.

“If you’re not going to create new drinkers, someone’s going to suffer,” said James Aiello, owner of Greenwood Lake Discount Liquors. “So it’s going to put us out of business.”

Currently there are 32 consumption liquor licenses within the township. State regulations allow for one consumption license to be issued per every 3,000 residents.

But according to Township Administrator Antoinette Battaglia, many, if not all of the 32 West Milford licenses were issued before the state established the formula, so they are “grandfathered in.”

“There’s just an oversaturation of licenses in the town,” Aiello said, “and until that problem gets addressed, the last thing you want to do is to create a public safety issue.”

Difference in restrictionsThere are also certain restrictions that consumption license holders must comply with that distribution license holders do not. A consumption license only allows owners to display products along the perimeter of their stores, unlike a distribution license where products can be out on the floor in aisles or other displays.

While he has competitive prices and a 5,000-square-foot storage area to hold stock, Aiello said that displays are what sell product.

There is also a town ordinance that requires consumption licenses to be 2,500 feet apart. The only distance requirement for a distribution license in the township is that they cannot be within 200 feet of a church or school.

Four liquor licenses are near ShopRite and the vacant A&P building on Union Valley Road, including Aiello. But Si Huang owns Plaza Bar & Liquors, right next to the vacant A&P.

If a larger store moves in, especially right next door to his business, he said that would be “‘unfair competition.”

“I don’t know what I should do,” Huang said, “ because I will lose everything.”

Council response“I definitely appreciate that some of the other businesses that are in town are concerned are being vocal,” said Township Councilman Tim Wagner. “If I was in their shoes, I would probably do the same thing. But I think that the role of government is to make opportunities out there, to increase ratables and help increase jobs and a better community that’s desperately needed — and hopefully revitalize the area of Hewitt that desperately needs it.

“And if a potential store will go into the old A&P that has been dormant for a couple years,” Wagner continued, “that would be great for even the smaller stores that are in there that pay high rents because they expect more traffic for those anchor stores.”

Matt Mehta, owner of Uncorked Wine and Spirits located near the ShopRite, said that he requested a few years back that he would like a distribution license if the township wants to issue one, and they said no, they had no intention of doing that.

“So now suddenly there is some — I would assume — some type of supermarket that wants to come in and now they want to change,” Mehta said.

“I am a resident of West Milford for 20 years, my business has been here for 19 years,” he continued. “We just made it bigger about six years ago. I put all that money in, and now they want to issue these licenses. So that could put me out of business.”

State regulations allow for one distribution liquor license to be issued per 7,500 people, so West Milford Township has the ability to issue up to three, but according to Battaglia, at this time the governing body has only authorized a process for one.

Battaglia said that they have received insterest, but the bidder list is confidential. Bids are being accepted until Friday, Oct. 13.

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  • Aug 10, 2018


West Milford, NJ