HAVERHILL — Known as the Queen Slipper City for much of 19th and 20th centuries for its prolific shoe-making industry, Haverhill could be in line for a new, modern-age moniker: Cocktail City.
Tonight the City Council will consider a proposal to increase the number of liquor licenses available to restaurants, bars and other businesses that serve alcohol on their premises.
The proposal calls for increasing the number of licenses from 60 to 100.
City officials said Grille 46 on Washington Street recently got Haverhill's 60th liquor license and that there are currently no more available should a new restaurant want to open downtown or anywhere else in the city. The licenses cost $2,500 and must be renewed annually.
"The last thing we want is a restaurant being held up because they can't get a liquor license," said Mayor James Fiorentini, who has made the expansion of the Washington Street restaurant district one of his top economic development priorities. "A restaurant can't survive in this day and age without serving alcohol."
Fiorentini said the city is not limited by state law as to how many liquor licenses it can make available to restaurants. He said he proposed increasing the number of licenses to 100 at the request of the city's License Commission, which regulates and oversees the sale of alcohol.
The mayor said he does not want to see a spike in new bars, but that he is not concerned about adding so many new liquor licenses at one time.
"We want as many new restaurants as we can get," he said. "I'd be happy if there were 200. But I don't want a ton of bars."
The mayor said he would like to eventually figure out a way to separate the licenses so the city can provide more of them for restaurants, but not bars.
"That's something I'd like to look at in the future," he said. "But I felt this was something we have to do right away because we are tapped out on liquor licenses right now."
License Commission Chairman Joseph Edwards said his board voted unanimously to ask the mayor and council to authorize the additional 40 liquor licenses.
"This will give us plenty of licenses for the foreseeable future," Edwards said. "It's better than doing 65 and then having to keep coming back for more every few years."
The number of Haverhill liquor licenses was last increased sometime in the 1980s, Edwards said.
The liquor licenses do not cover veteran's groups, which fall under separate rules and are not limited in number.
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