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Newton store seeks beer, wine license

Liquor stores and supermarkets may have toasted their truce last fall after state lawmakers agreed to allow more grocery stores to sell beer and wine while holding the total number of liquor licenses steady.

But at the local level the fight is still bubbling.

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This Tuesday, the Star Market in Chestnut Hill will ask Newton’s licensing board for permission to sell beer and wine. The application for one of the city’s 34 alcohol licenses has uncorked anger and opposition from liquor stores near the Route 9 intersection where the supermarket is located and some area residents.

At Urban Grape, the boutique wine shop in the same shopping center as Star Market, the owners are circulating an opposition petition. The store’s website instructs customers on how to make their opinions heard by contacting their aldermen, city officials, and their neighborhood association and by attending Tuesday’s meeting.

“It will undoubtedly eat into our margins,’’ said Hadley Douglas, who opened Urban Grape with her husband about two years ago. But aside from her concerns about the competition, Douglas said she feels blindsided by the request and that nobody from the supermarket talked to her.

Douglas said that while children aren’t allowed in her store unless accompanied by an adult, she fears that teenagers would find it easier to buy alcohol at the grocery store.

As Star Market attempts to take advantage of the new state law, it is encountering resistance. Earlier this month, the Marshfield Board of Selectmen voted to deny the supermarket chain a beer and wine license.

‘Our Chestnut Hill customers have been asking for the convenience of a one-stop shopping.’

Steve Sylven Star Market spokesman
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Under the law, signed by Governor Deval Patrick in November, retailers such as grocery store chains can progressively increase the number of liquor licenses they hold, from three now to nine by 2020.

Advocacy groups representing the supermarkets and the liquor stores agreed to the compromise to avoid another bruising fight over a ballot initiative. In 2006, both sides spent $11.5 million on a ballot question over whether cities and towns could issue new liquor licenses to grocery stores. Voters squelched the question, 56 to 44 percent.

Steve Sylven, a spokesman for Star Market, said the grocery store chain is trying to give its stores a hyper-local feel so that customers in specific neighborhoods can get all their needs met in one place. “Our Chestnut Hill customers have been asking for the convenience of a one-stop shopping experience, and we are exploring several possibilities,’’ Sylven said in an e-mail.

“The potential for a beer and wine license is just one aspect of what we have on tap.’’

Star Market already sells beer and wine at three of its stores in Massachusetts and has protocols in place to prevent the sale of alcohol to underage drinkers, Sylven said.

Deirdre Fernandes’s e-mail is
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