Town Council renews liquor licenses

Thu, 11/11/2021 - 2:00pm

The liquor license holders of Block Island are required to show up in person at the annual meeting of the Town Council when it serves as the Board of License Commissioners. Not all license holders could make it to the meeting on Nov. 4. Some sent a representative. Some license holders sent the same representative. Some sent representatives that may or may not have had anything to do with the business.
What mattered was that each license holder had someone to respond as present, when called upon by First Warden André Boudreau.
The premise is that if the board so chooses, it can withhold, or put conditions on a liquor license for an establishment. If, for instance, the establishment has been a bad actor the previous summer, the board could withhold the license. In other cases, a mere public chastisement may be all the board has in mind.
Police Chief Matt Moynihan spoke to the board at the outset to assure the members that all businesses had behaved well over the summer. He spoke about calls received by the police department, stating that he had experienced “good cooperation” from all the establishments. The chief said the stats may be skewed a little bit, specifically pointing out that Ballard’s receives more calls than Captain Nick’s and Yellow Kittens, but attributed this to the fact that officers are positioned outside Nick’s and Kittens at closing time. Many incidents are handled on the spot and do not result in a call, whereas Ballard’s has to call for every incident.
He said he did not want his reports to lead to a situation in which establishments do not want to call the police because they think the calls will make them look bad in front of the board. For its part, the board didn’t bring up any of the information offered by the chief.
Moynihan said one area that could use improvement is the protocol for fake IDs. All establishments do a good job of spotting and confiscating fakes, according to the chief, but he requested that the fakes be turned over to the police in a timelier manner. “We can see the good work these bouncers are
doing,” the chief said, but he also said he would like to have it “codified” that the fake IDs be turned over quickly.
The board got down to serious business with the first application before it, the Block Island Grocery. Mary Jane Balser was there to answer the call. Council Member Keith Stover used the opportunity to offer to help the BIG work through the steps to be able to accept SNAP benefits.
Balser responded that the BIG used to accept food stamps in the old days, but over time it had become too difficult to keep up, as the rules, criteria, and eligible items change frequently and need regular updating. “I just don’t have the manpower. And, in fact, no one in their right mind with a SNAP [benefit] of $200 a month is going to come into the Block Island Grocery and pay twice as much as they can pay at Walmart, which is where everybody is usually,” Balser said.

“I’m asking if you’re willing to work with us, we have people that can do it,” Stover said. Council Member Martha Ball suggested that Stover and Balser have a conversation “offline” about SNAP benefits. SNAP is accepted by Stop and Shop, which delivers groceries to the island, at prices slightly higher than WalMart.
The rest of the renewal applications went off without a hitch, but things got complicated with the new license requests. The Manisses applied for a Class BH license, which essentially allows a mini-bar in the hotel rooms. Owner Blake Filippi cited a growing guest preference for staying in some of the time, “and popping a bottleof champagne.” The board agreed with the sentiment. Even with Ball saying the statute governing Class BH licenses “doesn’t seem to make sense,” the board unanimously passed the application.
The second new application was for a Class T license for the Empire Theatre. Owner Gary Pollard was on hand to answer questions from the board and make his case for the granting of the license. Pollard told the board he had the license many years ago, but had given it up.
Since that time, the statute has been rewritten, and the Empire does not qualify for a Class T license anymore. The statute, which Boudreau read for everyone, outlines what the state considers to be a “legitimate” theater, and thereby eligible for the license. According to the statute, a legitimate theater is nonprofit, with exceptions being made in Newport and Burrillville to allow for-profit theaters to have the liquor license.
Town Solicitor Cathy Merolla joined via telephone to confirm that the board could not grant the license to the Empire.

Pollard asked if he could set up a nonprofit and get the license that way, but Merolla reminded everyone that applications have to be in by September 30, so Pollard would not be able to submit an application for a new nonprofit entity at this late date.
Another option floated by the board was to approach the state legislature about getting an exception for Block Island, similar to the ones in Newport and Burrillville, which would allow a for-profit theatre like the Empire to qualify.
Either option will have to wait for next summer, as the board ultimately denied the license.

The meeting wrapped up with a unanimous passing of all outdoor entertainment licenses as one big group, obviating the need for all those applicant representatives.