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Wednesday, May 29, 2024

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Analysis

Seminar Takes on Explaining Liquor License Reform, With Mixed Results

Christopher South
Brady Shoenrock of Harpoon’s by the Bay introduces the panel of speakers at the May 1 Liquor License Reform seminar sponsored by the Cape May County and Greater Wildwoods chambers of commerce. On the screen are members of the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control.

By Christopher South

COURT HOUSE – A panel of four people involved in the food and beverage industry, along with representatives from the state Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control, attempted to explain New Jersey’s liquor reform legislation, Senate Bill S-4265, and its companion bill in the Assembly, A-5912, at a seminar this week.

The Cape May County Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Wildwoods Chamber of Commerce set up the May 1 seminar before the 2024 tourist season begins to explain how the bill, signed into law on Jan. 16, would affect their businesses.

The seminar might have fallen short of providing a complete explanation, as even panel member Scott Silver, an attorney, said, “I believe the ABC is just as confused as we are.”

Silver, of the law firm Nehmad Davis & Goldstein, PC, who specializes in liquor license law, did not blame the ABC, but said the Legislature did not reach out to the stakeholders for input. He said that is why there is confusion – even within the ABC – about some issues.

“I believe that is why the ABC is unable to give answers,” he said.

It was not for lack of trying. Taking part in the seminar via Zoom were representatives from the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control, including Kelly Troilo, the licensing bureau chief, Tia Johnson, the retail licensing unit supervisor, and others, as well as representatives from the Office of the Attorney General, including Deputy Attorney General Jillian Mahoney.

The panel on site at the South 9 Bar & Grill included Silver, Diane Weiss, executive director of the New Jersey Licensed Beverage Association, Amanda Stone, government affairs director with the New Jersey Restaurant and Hospitality Association, and Debbie Gioquindo, owner of Trio in North Wildwood.

The goal of the seminar was to provide some insight regarding new types of licenses created under the law, changes related to the craft brewing industry, including distilleries, the law’s impact on inactive licenses and inter-municipal transfer of unused licenses.

Members of the business community and local government at the seminar on liquor license reform at the South 9 Bar & Grill Wednesday, May 1. Photo Credit: Christopher South

Liquor licenses are monitored by the state, but the applications and administration are handled by the municipalities. A business owner can acquire a liquor license in New Jersey that is attached to a business and not use it for various reasons. A pocket license is a liquor license that is purchased but not attached to a business and is inactive.

According to the law signed in January, if a license is unused for two licensing periods, or a total of two years, the license holder has the option to use it or sell it. If not, the license may be transferred to a contiguous municipality. Stone, of the restaurant group, said in the case of a transfer the sending municipality would permanently lose the license.

In addition, if a liquor license has lapsed in a municipality and has not been renewed for eight years, the municipality may issue a new consumption license and sell it at public auction.

These changes were expected to reintroduce as many as 1,356 licenses back into the market, a roughly 15% increase over the 8,905 active retail consumption licenses currently being used, the ABC said.

Attorney Alan Gould said he represents a number of clients with inactive licenses. “These holders have no idea what is going on,” he said.

The panel said it would be up to the municipalities to communicate to the holders how their licenses would be affected.

The law, according to information released from the office of Gov. Phil Murphy, also created a new class of retail consumption liquor license that the state said could result in about 100 new licenses throughout New Jersey. The so-called mall license would allow municipalities to issue:

  • Up to two new licenses for food and beverage establishments in shopping malls with a minimum of 750,000 square feet; and
  • Up to four new licenses for establishments in shopping malls with a minimum of 1.5 million square feet.

Troilo spoke on a related issue, saying the Covid-19 Expansion Permit would expire on Nov. 30. The permit, according to a press release from the Attorney General’s Office, was established to allow restaurants, bars and other establishments to expand their premises outdoors to allow for social distancing. Created by executive order in June 2020, the $75 permit allowed business owners to serve outdoors as a way for them to operate while promoting public safety.

Troilo said business owners would have to apply to their municipality for a place-to-place expansion to continue operating outdoors after the Nov. 30 deadline.

The ABC officials also covered changes that affect craft breweries and distilleries. These manufacturers, previously prohibited from having food brought in via food trucks, having entertainment and being forced to provide tours, have had many restrictions removed under the new law.

They will now be able to have unlimited onsite events, such as providing televised sporting events. Breweries and distilleries also will be able to have 25 offsite events per year.

Contact the reporter, Christopher South, at csouth@cmcherald.com or 609-886-8600, ext. 128.

Reporter

Christopher South is a reporter for the Cape May County Herald.

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