‘Brownbagging’ policy discussed – Business owner critical of process, lack of input

Friday, April 30, 2010
By Cary Shuman

Cindy Levins, co-owner of the Luna Boutique and Moonstruck Café, said while she accepts the Town Council’s decision to institute a "brownbagging" ordinance, she’s disappointed in the council’s vote to implement a $400 fee that certain food establishments will now have to pay for the new license.

The Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to enact a brown bagging ordinance. Brown bagging is the term used for the practice of customers bringing their own beer or wine into a restaurant that does not have a liquor license. After much discussion, the Council voted to approve Vice President Linda Calla’s compromise measure to set the fee at $400. The fee was initially set at $500.

“We are disappointed that that Town Council did not vote with the business community, its dedicated business owners, and the Winthrop consumer on this issue,” said Levins. “We don’t believe that they justified the new by-law or the high fee for a BYOB license. We are also frustrated by most of the councillors’ dismissive attitudes toward the financial concerns and difficulties that face small business owners today.”

Levins also criticized the Council about the lack of public notice and input. “I sat at the Town Council meeting Tuesday night for three hours and listened as the council president read two letters favoring the position of a majority of the councilors. Our letter, which questioned the justification for the high license fee and requested that it be more in line with other non-liquor businesses, was acknowledged but not read, nor were we given the chance to speak on the issue before a vote.”

Council President Jeffrey Turco said he respected Levins’s right to her opinion, but he felt the issue that been placed before the public for its input on several occasions.

“We had several hearings where the public was allowed to evaluate it so the council could be well informed,” said Turco. “Our rules and ordinance committee and economic development committee had numerous hearings to come up with a product we could all be proud of. Unfortunately, in a democracy we can never please everybody but we think the ordinance represents something that we collectively believe is good for the community.”

Turco said Winthrop’s fee is $600 less than the $1,000 fee in Swampscott, the only other community in Massachusetts that charges a fee.

“If business owners don’t believe that brown bagging will increase revenues for their business, then they don’t have to apply for the permit,” said Turco.

But Levins said the brown bagging permit was “more than a financial issue.”

"The Town Council had the opportunity to side with Winthrop business owners and to give a little back after introducing a new Winthrop meals tax last fall, after a state sales and meals tax increase, and after the residents approved a 2 ½ override. They failed to do so."

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