Township Council approves ‘distribution liquor license’ for the second time


Ann Genader photo James Aiello, owner of Greenwood Lake Discount Liquors, tells the Township of West Milford Council the liquor distribution license they approved Wednesday will put him and other small business owners with consumption licenses out of business.

By Ann Genader
WEST MILFORD – Supporters selling alcoholic beverages in local stores and supermarkets may be pleased with action by township officials Wednesday night to try again selling distribution liquor licenses, but present consumption license holders, who are required to have a bar on the premises, say their the latest Township Council action will destroy their businesses.
The council adopted an ordinance at Wednesday night's meeting “affirming and ratifying” the original ordinance they passed in Sept. 2017 that established ability to allow plenary retail distribution liquor licenses within the township.
The next step is for the administration and council to decide on an advertisement for a legal package for potential bidders.
State regulations allow for one distribution liquor license to be issued per 7,500 people. Therefore, with a population of 25,000, West Milford has the ability to issue up to three distribution licenses.
Last year the governing body only authorized a process for issuing one such license.
After passing the original ordinance last year, the council advertised an offer to sell its first liquor distribution license at a minimum cost of $250,000 with the goal of filling vacant retail space and try and revitalize the local economy.
Three potential buyers of the license took out bid packages last year, but no one submitted proposals. Those who took out the package included two of the current consumption license holders and a consultant group connected with the Inserra Supermarket.
Meanwhile, James Aiello, owner of Greenwood Lake Discount Liquors and others presently licensed to sell packaged liquor at their bars in the township sought court action to challenge the council creating the new type of license.
With him in filing the complaint were Si Huang, owner of Plaza Bar and Liquors, and Matt Mehta, owner of Uncorked Wine and Spirits near the ShopRite. Formal court action on that case has not yet been announced.
All three spoke at Wednesday’s public hearing on creating the new licenses, repeating their fears they will be put out of business when the public has the option of going to buy liquor at a warehouse type store.
Aiello, repeating his earlier concerns from the 2017 public hearing, reminded the council of the current rigid legal stipulations for the 31 current liquor license holders.
To sell cans of beer, bottles of wine or other alcoholic beverages, the law requires that they also have a bar in their establishments.
Aiello again brought up statistics issued in a CASA report by Rebecca Stump in July that said alcohol abuse was a number one problem in a number of towns, including West Milford.
Pointing to the report, he asked the council members to look at how the new license will affect community health, safety and welfare.
Social media responses last year about the issue in The Messenger pointed to “an oversaturation of licenses in town – as well as oversaturation of members of the community abusing alcohol.”
A consumption license only allows owners to display products along the perimeter of their stores, unlike a distribution license where products can be on the floor in aisles or otherwise displayed. Aiello said displays are what sell a product.
Township Attorney Fred Semrau said the adopted ordinance does not bind the council to accept any bids for the new type license that might be submitted for their consideration.
He said the council would need to vote whether or not to accept a proposal.
Some say the existence of the bar is one reason why the package store license, without a bar being required, is a reason why the distribution license is needed.
Councilman Luciano (Lou) Signorino said that some parents who are out shopping with their children won’t take them into a bar to buy a few cans of beer. Signorino said making the additional type of license available is just an opportunity, and an attempt by the officials, to create additional opportunities. Councilwoman-elect Ada Erik, who begins a new term on the council in January, was unhappy with the council decision to adopt the ordinance, and vowed to renew her earlier fight against it.