WINCHESTER - Even though attorney Matthew Gordon strongly defended his clients against claims of violations at other liquor stores (not in Winchester), the Select Board ultimately rejected a liquor license transfer from Amberghini, Inc. d/b/a Craft Beer Cellar to Ramila Convenience, Inc. d/b/a Dairy Barn.
Ultimately, Winchester Police uncovered the violations, as the applicants failed to list any of them on their license transfer application. Gordon said they weren’t ABCC (Alcohol Beverage Control Commission) violations and the application only refers to ABCC violations. He also seemed surprised to learn of the infractions; therefore, the board allowed him and his clients 10 minutes to discuss the issues while the board moved onto other matters.
Before that, however, Gordon said his clients all have liquor license experience. He also said they’re all TIPS certified. The license, had the transfer been granted, would have gone to president and treasurer Ramila Patel, secretary and director Vasudev Patel, shareholder Pragnesh Patel, and director Mahavir Patel. Each has 25 percent ownership in Dairy Barn.
The manager is Winchester resident Viyaben Patel.
Gordon added that the Patels didn’t plan to change the business model; Dairy Barn would still be a convenience store. They just wanted the option to sell some beer and wine.
Because it was a public hearing, residents were able to speak. Only one did. Michael O’Brien, a Town Meeting member, reminded the board they had been down this road before. Like then, he was concerned with the location, as Dairy Barn is located in a residential area.
“I oppose this as a Town Meeting member and a neighbor,” he said.
He added how Winchester used to be a dry town back in the 1970s. He stressed he had no problem with the ownership, just the location and timing.
Gordon said under the law he had to notify any direct abutters, and with a large apartment complex next door, he ended up notifying 300 neighbors. He said the fact that only one person showed up to oppose the transfer speaks “volumes about the owners.”
The board, though, wasn’t so easily swayed. Select Board member Susan Verdicchio had some issues with the stores layout, specifically a drive-thru used for cigarettes and lottery transactions. All of the board members had some issue with the drive-thru and the possibility of it being used for alcohol sales.
Oddly, according to Gordon, there’s no ABCC law prohibiting the use of a drive-thru for alcohol sales. He did, however, say he’d understand if the board placed restrictions on it. In fact, he kept going back to that comment any time the board brought up the potential use of the drive-thru. He stressed over and over again that his clients wouldn’t use the drive-thru for alcohol.
When asked about the number of employees and if someone would be watching the store if a customer was at the drive-thru, manager Viyaben Patel said there are three employees, but they could hire more in the future.
Gordon again stressed how each member of the Patel family has liquor store experience, adding there have been no violations. He also noted how Dairy Barn is a small store and easy to manage. He said his clients would keep a good eye on the products.
Had the transfer gone through, the hours of operation, 5:30 a.m. - 10 p.m., wouldn’t have changed. However, Patel said he would have removed some freezer items, like ice cream, to make room for the alcohol. He also mentioned the drive-thru, stating there was a camera on it.
Unfortunately, as Select Board member Amy Shapiro said, the drive-thru was a sticking point for the board. Select Board member Michael Bettencourt, on call, added how it wasn’t fair to assume that just because someone didn’t show up it meant they were in favor of it.
“I’m not inclined to support the application,” he stated.
He said that area was becoming more residential with more families and more children. A liquor license, therefore, was not needed for that neighborhood, he pointed out.
Chairman Mariano Goluboff expressed gratitude toward Dairy Barn, calling them a “great business in a good location.” He added how the company serves the needs of the town as it is right now. He also said the drive-thru may or may not be legal, pointing to another ABCC ruling that differed from the one Gordon used.
Goluboff also brought up the violations, noting the police found five at other, non-Winchester, locations.
“I can’t vote in favor, because this isn’t in the public interest,” he said.
Once all the board members made it fairly clear they weren’t going to vote in favor, Verdicchio suggested they continue the hearing to give the applicant time to review the violations the police discovered. Gordon, though, said if the board was only going to still reject the transfer, there was no reason to continue the hearing.
“I’d rather you just vote now,” he asked the board.
Instead, the board decided to give Gordon and his clients some time to discuss the newly discovered violations while the board moved on to other items of business. When they reconvened, Gordon said some of the violations didn’t relate to his clients, but did admit to three. He then asked for the board to continue the hearing until their next meeting on Sept. 9.
In defense of his clients, Gordon said they’ve run eight stores over decades, so the police only uncovered three violations with such a large sample size. He also reminded the board these weren’t ABCC violations.
Town Counsel Mina Makarious noted these were probably at the local, licensing level and the state was probably not involved. However, Goluboff felt they “show not selling within the rules.” That combined with the fact the drive-thru is adjacent to a residential neighborhood gave the chairman pause.
Even though Verdicchio suggested voting with a “clear record and understanding of the facts,” the board chose not to continue the hearing and instead voted to reject the license transfer. The applicant can now appeal the decision, come back with a new application or accept the decision and do nothing.