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Wellesley to vote on beer, wine sales

Wellesley residents may soon be able to pick up a six-pack of beer at their neighborhood deli, or go to a wine tasting at their local cheese shop.

The Board of Selectmen voted Tuesday to ask Town Meeting members this winter whether they think local grocery stores and specialty shops should be able to sell beer and wine.

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The article being sponsored by selectmen would propose sending a home-rule petition to the Legislature asking to change the town’s bylaws to allow the sale of beer and wine at grocery and specialty stores. The measure is expected to go before the Special Town Meeting session tentatively slated for December.

“We’ve gotten input from a number of folks, and the vast majority has been supportive of this,” said Hans Larsen, Wellesley’s executive director.

If Town Meeting approves the measure, and Beacon Hill goes along with it, the proposal would go back before voters in a townwide election. If the ballot question passes, the Board of Selectmen would determine the number of licenses and how they would be allocated, among other regulations, Larsen said.

“All registered voters can weigh in directly on the issue,” he said.

Larsen said town officials feel fairly confident the measure will be approved. Various store owners have approached the town asking to sell beer and wine to keep their stores competitive, and many local residents are not opposed to the idea, he said.

“What is appropriate for the town today might be different than what was appropriate 50 years ago,” he said. “Times have changed and we’re hoping that our property owners and merchants can remain competitive, as there is increased competition in other communities.”

Fells Market co-owner Paul Katsikaris said customers often lament the lack of wine and beer to complement his deli offerings.

“People have been wanting this in the town for years, and it got to the point where we said, ‘Why not try to get it for the town of Wellesley?’ ” he said. “Every time these people come in, buying a nice steak or a tenderloin roast, they always say, ‘We wish there was beer and wine.’ ”

Brad Wasik, co-owner of Wasik’s Cheese Shop on Central Street, said he has had to hold shop-related cheese and wine pairing classes in various homes over the years because he does not hold an alcohol-sales license.

“Because of the licensing issues, we don’t do the wine classes in the store,” Wasik said. “If this went through, we’d hope to be able to do it there, and that would definitely open up some doors for us. It’s never been a possibility in Wellesley, so we never even thought about it before.”

Wellesley isn’t the only community that has become aware of the need for broader access to alcoholic beverages. Earlier this year, Needham doled out liquor licenses to five retail and package stores, four of them for full liquor, under a new town law allowing the sale of alcohol for off-site consumption, said Selectman Dan Matthews.

“By and large, this seems to be going pretty well,” Matthews said. “People seem to generally like it. This adds a little more to our business area, and people don’t have to go out of town to buy alcohol now.”

Other nearby communities, like Weston, Arlington, and Lincoln, have also recently loosened their policies on selling booze, and Natick has acknowledged the importance of alcohol’s boost on business by making it easier for small restaurants to get liquor licenses.

“Over the past couple years, there’s definitely been a cry for this in Wellesley,” Wasik said. “I think places like Needham and Weston changing their policies was probably a catalyst.”

Larsen said although selectmen support the beer and wine measure, residents should not expect to see full liquor stores any time soon.

“We’re taking a smaller step to just sell beer and wine in limited places,” he said. “I think the perception is that package stores is a step too far. It’s also not a step that we feel is necessary, because no one has been arguing in favor of that.”

Wellesley has traditionally been “dry’’ from a retail standpoint, Larsen said.

However, the town has granted liquor licenses to roughly 15 local restaurants, allowing them to serve some type of alcohol, whether it is just beer and wine or any liquor, Larsen said.

The town has also granted licenses to four clubs, including the Wellesley Country Club, Larsen said, and to two campus establishments: Roger’s Pub at Babson College, and a bistro at Wellesley College.

Jaclyn Reiss can be reached at jaclyn.reiss@globe.com.
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