EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

November 22, 2013

Officials reject chamber's request for beer booth at stroll

They didn't want street vendor taking business from restaurants or people walking around with booze

By Shawn Regan

---- — HAVERHILL — The License Commission has rejected a request for a one-day liquor license from a company working with the Greater Haverhill Chamber of Commerce that wanted to sell beer outside in Washington Square at next month’s Downtown Christmas Stroll.

Event Partners LLC of Amesbury wanted to operate a beer booth from 5 to 9 p.m. during the city’s signature holiday event Dec. 7. The stroll is geared to attract visitors downtown to patronize shops and restaurants.

License Commission member Timothy Coco said the board didn’t realize the company was working with the chamber until members began scrutinizing the liquor license request.

Coco said the members were concerned about a street vendor taking business away from “brick and mortar” restaurants and bars in the area, most of which are also members of the Haverhill chamber.

“And we also didn’t like the idea of people walking around in the street with beers during what is supposed to be a family event,” Coco said.

Chamber Vice President Jen Cantwell told the commission at its meeting Thursday night that the chamber was going to get a portion of sales receipts from the beer booth “to help pay its bills,” Coco said.

Coco also said the chamber originally wanted to allow people to walk in the street with their beers, but that the Police Department squashed that idea. He said the proposal that eventually reached the commission would have allowed people to drink in a roped-off area across from the downtown Christmas Tree.

In a statement released after the meeting, the Chamber said, “The Chamber staff, together with committed volunteers including Committee Chair Officer Paul Malone, organizes and executes the city’s largest run community events, Haverhill’s KidsFEST and the Christmas Stroll. Both are run on a shoe-string budget, surviving on donations and sponsorships solely from Chamber members who believe in the work the Chamber does.

“In an effort to defray some costs and raise money to facilitate the annual Christmas Stroll, the Chamber hired Event Partners LLC to sell light food and beverages, both alcoholic and non, at a designated tent with full security and police presence. The proceeds of the food and beverage sales were anticipated to off-set potentially thousands of dollars of expenses the Chamber incurs to execute the Christmas Stroll. The Chamber is a non-profit organization.”

Sven Amirian, the chamber’s president, said the chamber polled businesses participating in the stroll and that they were supportive of the beer booth.

“The idea behind it was to promote all the downtown businesses, but unfortunately, because of misinformation, we won’t be able to do everything we wanted to do now,” Amirian said.

Amirian also said the chamber planned to hire additional security and a police detail for the beer booth and the designated drinking area.

A summary of the issue posted by Coco on his Facebook page after Thursday’s meeting has received a barrage of positive responses from downtown business owners, including representatives of Maria’s Family Restaurant on Essex Street and The Tap Brew House on Washington Street.

“Tonight I led the charge against granting the Greater Haverhill Chamber of Commerce a liquor license for their own booth at the Downtown Christmas Stroll,” reads Coco’s Facebook post. “I said granting such a license would enable the chamber — but mostly its vendor, Amesbury Sports Park — to compete with its own downtown Haverhill members.”

Event Partners also operates Amesbury Sports Park.

In a statement, the Chamber said, “Event Partners LLC, an Amesbury-based company, joined the Greater Haverhill Chamber of Commerce in the spring of 2013. Since establishing this relationship, the company has held several large scale events recruiting thousands of guests to spend money in Haverhill.

“Prior to the dismissal of the Chamber’s request, Event Partners had planned on approaching The Tap/Haverhill Brewing Company about selling the local brewery’s product at the wine and beer tent.”

However, Coco’s statement on Facebook said, “Brick and mortar restaurants who pay for liquor licenses, occupancy permits, personal property taxes, property taxes and invest in the city should not lose income to the very organization that represents them.”

In its statement, the Chamber said, “The Chamber is committed to the success of businesses and the health of the local economy. In that vein, the Chamber staff has tirelessly worked on a new ‘Shop and Eat Local’ initiative, set to encourage the community to engage with local businesses for the holiday shopping season.

“Jen Cantwell, Vice President of the Chamber, presented this information to the commission in response to their fear of deterring business from downtown merchants. Cantwell explained that besides the annual tree lighting, the mission of the Christmas Stroll is in fact to promote shopping and dining with businesses. On the night of the Stroll, the Chamber will hold a raffle that shoppers can enter by submitting their receipts from the evening’s shopping and dining.

“Additionally, the Chamber will extend this initiative through the next two weeks to include all members throughout their service area, which will include discounts and savings incentives for shoppers and diners. This ‘Shop Local’ program is provided by the Chamber at no expense to members. “

The chamber’s request for the one-day liquor license was not supported by any commission members and was not granted, Coco said.