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Lawmaker wants to allow more NJ restaurants to serve alcohol

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New Jersey has some of the most restrictive laws in the nation when it comes to allowing restaurants to sell liquor to customers. But plans are moving forward to change things.

Under current state law, municipalities are limited as to how many liquor licenses they may sell by the size of their populations, and the licenses themselves are extremely expensive, sometimes costing more than $1 million. But legislation being developed by Assemblyman John Burzichelli, D-Gloucester, would create two new classes of liquor licenses.

His proposed measure, which is in the final stages of development, would establish an R1 license, which would permit the holder to sell any type of alcoholic beverage for consumption at a dining table on the premises, and an R2 license, which would allow the restaurant to sell only beer or wine.

“If you’re just starting out and you want to open a restaurant right now, it’s very difficult to be able to afford a liquor license. This would change all that,” he said.

Under the legislation being developed, an R2 license, depending on the size of the restaurant could cost as little as $1,500 a year.

Initially all monies collected for the new licenses would be used by the state to recoup funds that would be lost by offering tax credits to businesses with existing liquor licenses, but down the road, a portion of the annual fee would go to local municipalities.

Burzichelli said New Jersey’s liquor laws go back to immediately after Prohibition, but times have changed and “mayors across New Jersey, those trying to redevelop towns, those that have exciting towns, are clamoring for more licenses.”

He explained it’s important to make liquor licenses more easily available, at a much lower cost, because restaurants help to spur local economic growth.

“It’s going to add to economic development and jobs, the idea of having more restaurants is exciting for communities,” he said.

“When restaurants do good business, there’s a ripple effect. They drive other parts of the local economy, so the idea of a restaurant being successful is to create values to local communities across New Jersey.”

“Being able to serve a drink with dinner plays a big part in the success of a restaurant because in many cases restaurants do better in profit margins on serving a martini than they may on the entrée.”

He also was quick to point out restaurants that already have liquor licenses have made large investments and their equity must be preserved, so his legislation would offer them a series of tax credits.

“Those people presently holding a license would not be harmed if in fact the new licenses are brought to life,” he said

Burzichelli said the Legislature is “probably within a handful of weeks of having a final study completed that will give us a clear picture of what the benefit against the expense of doing this is.”

After the study is finished, there will be a public discussion and the measure will then head to a committee hearing, probably by the end of March.

Contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com.

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