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FOXBOROUGH

Foxborough selectmen buy time on Trader Joe’s request to sell alcohol

Board delays call on full license for Trader Joe’s

Foxborough selectmen have given themselves another two weeks to decide whether a new Trader Joe’s supermarket will be allowed to sell hard liquor when it opens its doors at the Patriot Place shopping complex in the coming months.

The extension follows a public hearing last week at which scores of residents and officials took sides on the store’s request to sell liquor and other forms of alcohol so close to Gillette Stadium, with many under the impression the plan for the new 16,000-square-foot outlet was to sell beer and wine only.

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Only three of the California-based grocery chain’s 17 Massachusetts stores - in Brookline, Cambridge, and Framingham - sell beer and wine. None sell hard liquor.

If approved by Foxborough, Trader Joe’s would transfer the town’s only available all-alcohol license from Central Wines & Spirits, which is all but closed, to its new outlet at 350 Patriot Place, the site of a former Circuit City electronics store.

Central’s owner, William Varkas, would receive about $200,000 for the license, according to the deal.

All other town alcohol licenses - from those that allow restaurants to pour alcohol, to those for over-the-counter sales of alcohol, beer, and wine, are already in use, Police Chief Edward O’Leary said.

While people in Foxborough have varying opinions about Trader Joe’s getting a license to sell alcohol at Patriot Place, all seem supportive of the store itself, said selectmen chairman Larry Harrington, who tried but failed to reach a compromise last week.

Only three of Trader Joe’s 17 stores in the state sell beer and wine. None sell hard liquor.

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Harrington first asked fellow selectmen to allow Trader Joe’s to have the all-alcohol license, then file a home-rule petition with the state for another beer and wine license that could eventually replace it. But that didn’t fly, he said.

“So I tried another approach, and got Trader Joe’s to agree not to sell spirits during any paid events at the stadium to address the concerns expressed about event days,’’ Harrington said. “But that did not get support, either.’’

Selectwoman Lynda Walsh said she thought Harrington’s efforts to find common ground would succeed, but the majority of members on the board - Jim DeVellis, Mark Sullivan, and Lorraine Brue - asked for more time to consider all options.

Walsh said it was only recently that she realized the company intended to try out the concept of selling “specialty spirits’’ in Foxborough in a small segment of the store area set aside to sell alcohol.

“I was a little taken aback to hear Trader Joe’s note that they intended to use the all-alcohol license to include spirits,’’ Walsh said. “I thought that they only sold specialty beers and wine.’’

She said she was disappointed that Trader Joe’s officials also inferred they weren’t interested in coming to Foxborough if they didn’t get the all-alcohol license. She said she was heartened when company officials said at last week’s meeting that they were willing to work with the town.

“My hopes are that between the two lawyers we will be able to reach a comfortable agreement and that Trader Joe’s will come to Foxborough,’’ Walsh said.

Harrington said he is hopeful, too, since most people seem to like Trader Joe’s.

“It will create 80 more jobs, bring more traffic to Patriot Place to help other merchants there, and is very welcomed by the town,’’ he said.

According to The Kraft Group, which owns the mall and the adjoining stadium, the Trader Joe’s store will feature décor that mixes its traditional elements of cedar-covered walls and Hawaiian design with art celebrating the town and its home team, the New England Patriots.

The store carries a range of domestic and imported food and beverages including fresh baked artisan breads, Arabica bean coffees, international frozen entrées, 100-percent juices, fresh crop nuts, deli items, and vitamins and supplements, as well as basics like milk and eggs, Patriot Place manager Brian Earley said in a news release.

“Without question, the No. 1 comment we receive when soliciting customer feedback is, ‘You should get a Trader Joe’s,’ ’’ said Earley. “We’re happy to give our customers what they want.’’

On Wednesday, a Kraft Group spokesman had no comment on the liquor license debate. Trader Joe’s did not return a call for comment.

O’Leary said representatives of Trader Joe’s and Patriot Place met with him months ago to discuss the safeguards and standards the company would put in place to control alcohol sales.

He said he never thought to ask during those discussions whether the plan was to sell liquor in addition to beer and wine. He said he is not too concerned about problems.

“I can see this being a place where someone goes in to pick up a six-pack of beer, or a bottle of wine to have with dinner,’’ he said. Still, “it would be important for them to follow the practices they have in place in other communities.’’

O’Leary has taken the lead in efforts to crack down on rampant underage and binge drinking in the town, which racks up more than 1,000 protective police custody cases a year because of all the stadium events. He has also worked with fellow police chiefs in surrounding communities to educate teens on the dangers of drinking.

The Board of Selectmen is expected to revisit the Trader Joe’s discussion at its next meeting on April 24.

Michele Morgan Bolton can be reached at michelebolton@live.com.
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