Grassy Roots was the Wenham Board of Selectmen’s top choice Tuesday night to move forward in the application process for the town’s only package store license.
The package store liquor license became available when the Wenham Tea House chose to give it up in December. The Tea House’s new operator, Henry’s of North Beverly, plans to reopen the restaurant in April and is seeking a pouring license. Voters approved the first step at a Special Town Meeting last week, and a legislative petition moves on to the Legislature, a process that could take four to six months.
In the meantime, Selectmen are charged with awarding the package store license, which is unassigned.
Each of the three applicants was asked to submit a “short summary of intentions” prior to Tuesday night’s meeting. Those descriptions were not immediately available from town officials on Tuesday.
The package store license was originally granted with a restriction that the area be limited to 100 square feet.
“Whoever gets this license has to live within those limitations,” Town Administrator Jeff Chelgren said.
When Town Meeting voters granted the license to the Tea House, it was based on the “ Hungry Fox-model,” Selectmen said, referring to the Hamilton business. The beer and wine would be a portion of what is otherwise a prepared food takeout business. While a petition to the state Legislature could change the restrictions on the license, Chelgren said the limitations were enacted to avoid a package store the size of Kappy’s, for example, from opening in town, referring to the liquor store with locations in Danvers, Malden and Peabody.
Selectmen said that Grassy Roots most closely aligns with that vision.
“This is a very difficult decision from my perspective,” said Selectman Patrick Wilson, adding that he felt the Board of Selectmen were being asked to pick winners and losers. “I really do not like bureaucrats being in that position.”
Wilson said Town Meeting voters originally said they favored a “catering type establishment” with a cooler for beer and wine. Grassy Roots comes the closest to that, he said.
“It’s a tough decision but we have to make them,” he said.
Chairman Molly Martins agreed, saying she too referred to the original Town Meeting vote to grant the town’s first package store license to the Tea House.
“I do believe Grassy Roots is the most consistent with that with what they are trying to do,” she said.
Wilson encouraged the other two applicants to continue to pursue a license. The Selectmen, Chelgren said, could put an article on the Annual Town Meeting warrant asking voters to begin the process of increasing the number of package store license in town.
Since just one application will be awarded the license, Chelgren said Wenham officials began with an informal process, versus the “onerous” and lengthy formal process. With the decision that Grassy Roots is the “preferred candidate,” it can proceed with the formal process.
But an attorney for Richdale, Tom Truax of Salem, asked the board to make a decision on Richdale’s application. He said Richdale filed a complete, formal application and the board is required to take action within 10 days.
Chelgren said he would check with the town’s special counsel for the liquor license about how to handle the Richdale application.