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Total Wine superstore approved at controversial South Bay location by Boston licensing board

The former OfficeMax location in South Bay shopping plaza in Boston. A Total Wine & More alcohol superstore proposed for the South Bay shopping plaza is being opposed by local business owners and civic groups, who see the megastore as a threat to both their businesses and to public health.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

Boston’s licensing board voted unanimously to approve a Total Wine & More location at the South Bay shopping center, a proposal that had drawn support from some consumers and sharp criticism from groups concerned about the superstore’s proximity to the area known as Mass. and Cass.

Some residents worried about the proposed 20,000-square-foot liquor megastore’s proximity to Southampton Street and the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard, which in recent years have become the center of the Boston area’s opioid epidemic.

The opening of a wine, beer, and liquor superstore has also drawn criticism from smaller liquor stores in the area.


“While these are legitimate concerns, I do not believe the addition of Total Wine will exacerbate the issues at South Bay,” Kathleen Joyce, chairwoman of the Boston Licensing Board, said in Thursday’s hearing. “When this board denies a license, our denial must be supported by evidence, or our denial could be deemed arbitrary and capricious and could be overruled.

“A neighborhood’s opinion and concerns are certainly important, but standing alone they are insufficient to deny a license,” she said.

Joyce noted that the public discussion of the Total Wine location was heated.

“We have thousands of signatures in opposition. We have thousands of signatures in support,” Joyce said.

Joyce also acknowledged concerns from neighbors who said they had a verbal agreement with the shopping center’s Washington, D.C.-based owner, retail developer Edens, that it would never open a liquor store there. She noted that Total Wine provided a letter from Edens saying they have no record of such an agreement.

Licensing board member Keeana Saxon said that a large liquor store would not be out of place with its neighbors in South Bay — a large Stop and Shop supermarket, a Home Depot, and a large Target location.


“I think the neighborhood has improved,” Saxon said. “[Security] was one of my worries, that was one of my concerns when I heard the application. But the response was persuasive.”

Member Liam Curran said he had some public safety concerns about the store at the start of licensing discussions, but voted to approve its license.

“I think there will be challenges down there but where I came down was ultimately the challenges will not be insurmountable,” Curran said.

Gal Tziperman Lotan is a former Globe staff member.