Town Council rejects liquor license transfer

February 21, 2019

The Jackson Town Council declined to transfer a languishing liquor license from the restaurant Lift, which closed in October, to Pearl Street Market.

When deciding whether to approve liquor license transfers, the councilors are supposed to run through a checklist of criteria to determine whether it’s in the public’s best interest. In the end, they agreed they had no idea.

“The only way to really answer those questions,” Councilor Arne Jorgensen said, “is to open that back up into a competitive realm.”

Businesses are allowed to transfer liquor licenses through private exchanges, but only with approval from the Town Council. Mayor Pete Muldoon argued that when traded privately, a highly valuable license could essentially go to the highest bidder.

“Lots of people have lots of ideas of what they’d do with them, and yet can’t afford to pay two, three, four, five, six hundred thousand dollars,” Muldoon said. “I feel very strongly that we ought to have a process by which everybody’s got a chance.”

ShopCoo LLC — better known as Pearl Street Market — already has a restaurant liquor license, which it uses to sell alcohol for on-site consumption. But if granted the retail license from TasteBuds LLC — which operated as Lift — the owners planned to create a 21-and-older section right inside the front door, where it would sell alcohol to-go.

Muldoon said three other businesses — Bin22, Spirits & Spice, and The Rose — already sell alcohol in the market’s vicinity. He doubted whether the area needs a fourth.

Several councilors said that the market may be the best candidate for the license: They just want to find out through a public competition.

“I’m an enthusiastic patron of Pearl Street Market,” Stanford said. “I find it to be invaluable. It may be that that’s a great spot, but at this time I can’t approve the transfer.”

After rejecting the transfer request, the council had another decision to make: whether to renew Lift’s liquor license. Under state statute, a business can hold a license in nonoperational status for up to a year.

But the councilors decided it would be better for the town to hold onto the license for now, seeing no indication that Lift’s owners will try to use it before that year is up.

Muldoon said the council could give the license back to Lift, if the owners came back with a plan to use it themselves. But, he said, “the odds of that happening are vanishingly small.”

For now, they voted not to renew the license, with Councilor Arne Jorgensen opposed.

The council in November rejected another application to transfer the license from TasteBuds LLC to Longitude Ventures, which owned the property while Lift operated there, because Longitude Ventures provided no plan for using the license.