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Rockport to consider grocery store alcohol sales

After going nearly 135 years with no alcohol sales, Rockport is considering a second revision of the rules since the prohibition ended in 2005.

At annual Town Meeting scheduled to begin April 9, and likely to continue April 10, residents will be asked whether to authorize the Board of Selectmen to file a home rule petition to the state Legislature to allow the sale of beer and wine at a grocery store.

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This time, Hannah Jumper - legendary for leading a large group of hatchet-wielding women to smash all of the town’s liquor bottles in 1856 - may not be rolling in her grave.

The goal is to entice a grocer to move into town. Rockport has been without one since the IGA moved out in January 2011. For an emergency loaf of bread or gallon of milk, there’s only the Cumberland Farms on Railroad Avenue or the Rockport Market on Broadway.

“The fact of the matter is, you can’t get a head of lettuce, or you can’t get a bottle of molasses,’’ said Selectman Paul Murphy, who raised the issue last month.

“In Rockport, if you run out of it, the nearest place you can go is Shaw’s on Eastern Avenue [in Gloucester],’’ he said. “It’s had an effect on people, and people are concerned.’’

Tampering with the town’s tradition of temperance is always a tricky issue in Rockport. With the exception of a one-year trial in 1930, liquor was banned from 1870 until the law was changed to allow alcohol sales with food in restaurants in 2005. The first drink was served in January 2006.

While the board doesn’t need town approval to seek the change from the Legislature, members wanted to be sure they had residents’ support before taking action.

Should the Legislature approve the home rule petition, it would still require townwide ballot support before being enacted.

“We’re supporting the idea of discussing it at Town Meeting to really gauge how the public feels about doing this,’’ Selectman Erin Battistelli said. She also noted that the proposal does not give any preference to where the grocery store might operate.

Peter Beacham, a member of the town’s Economic Development Committee, said that allowing the sale of beer and wine would help entice businesses.

“A number of us have been talking to different places to try and get somebody to come in, and the reason that they’re not coming in is because a small, good-quality grocery store can’t survive and be profitable without wine and beer,’’ said Beacham.

One grocer that has considered moving in is Crosby’s Market. There are six Crosby’s stores, including four with a full liquor license or just for beer and wine, located in Georgetown, Manchester-by-the-Sea, Marblehead, and Hamilton.

“We’ve explored it and would love to be there,’’ said Jim Crosby, chairman of the chain’s board. “It’s a Norman Rockwell-type of town, and we think it would be a nice fit for us.’’

Crosby said that a number of factors have prevented the company from moving in, at this point.

“The alcohol beverage license is very important to making the numbers work there,’’ he said. “I don’t know if it’s crucial, but it’s very important to whoever goes in there.’’

Murphy noted that not having a grocery store in town has been a particular concern to senior citizens, and Selectman Wendell “Sandy’’ Jacques Jr. pointed out that the site of the former IGA is located close to the 80-unit Millbrook Park, a senior housing development run by the Rockport Housing Authority.

“Our tenants haven’t had a good grocery store for over a year,’’ said Claudia T. Kearns, executive director.

“Right now they have to take a cab to Gloucester to do their shopping,’’ Jacques said.

Perhaps because there have been no police incidents since the alcohol rules were changed in 2005, according to Murphy, or perhaps because it addresses the specific need for a grocery store, there has been little opposition to the proposal.

Jacques said while only a small percentage of people he’s talked about a license for a grocery store have objected, his sample size is limited.

“That’s why we’re bringing it to Town Meeting first, and the ballot eventually,’’ he said. “Everybody will have a chance to weigh in with their vote.’’

David Rattigan can be reached at drattigan.globe@gmail.com.

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