Transforming downtown Hudson into a “restaurant row’’ attractive to tourists and residents alike became a much taller order after the town issued its last available liquor license about eight months ago.
But local officials are hopeful that state lawmakers will grant their request for 10 new liquor licenses before the Legislature breaks for the summer next Thursday.
One of two home-rule petitions approved by Town Meeting this spring asks the Legislature for five licenses designated for the Highland Commons development on Route 62, and the second seeks five licenses that could be used anywhere else in town. Two of the licenses (including one at Highland Commons) would be for beer and wine only.
“We have an economic development need downtown,” Thomas Moses, Hudson’s executive assistant, said in a telephone interview last week. “We have a pretty healthy downtown, and there are no liquor licenses’’ for the town to issue there.
“We’ve become somewhat of a local destination for dining.”
Liquor licenses in most Massachusetts cities and towns are limited by the state based partly on population. Communities such as Hudson that reach their limit must petition the Legislature for more licenses. Earlier this month the Senate passed Governor Deval Patrick’s proposal to give cities and towns more control over their own liquor licenses, but the matter has to clear a conference committee finalizing the wording of an economic development bill because the House did not include it in its version.
“That particular amendment, I’d have to see it but I support the spirit that allows towns to set up their own committees” to handle alcohol sales licenses, said state Representative Kate Hogan, a Stow Democrat who introduced Hudson’s home-rule petitions to the Legislature on July 7.
“It’s a complex process but it could certainly be handled on a local level.”
If Hudson’s request for more licenses is not addressed before the Legislature goes into recess, Hogan said, it could be introduced again in the fall, but would need to come up for a vote this year to avoid starting over.
“Which means we have until December to get it done,” she said. “But we will continue at a pace to ensure we get it back as soon as possible. It will be very important to the economy and development of Hudson, absolutely. We’re seeing such an uptick in the downtown, and in order to keep up with the growth of the downtown, I’m sure that will mean more restaurants, clubs, and bars.
“It will be important we have the liquor licenses we need.”
With roughly 20,000 residents, Hudson can issue 21 all-alcohol licenses and five beer-and-wine licenses. The town issued its final license in November to the Rail Trail Flatbread Co. The owners of the popular Main Street pizza joint will use the license for a new dessert bar in a renovated space across the street.
Another restaurant that had been seeking the license awarded to Rail Trail Flatbread decided to delay its opening in the Highland Commons development, Moses said.
“We are absolutely losing business,” Moses said of the town’s lack of liquor licenses. “In December or January they were interested and now I don’t believe they are. Once we have licenses in hand, maybe their interest will be renewed. I don’t know.”
Moses said several other open spaces in Highland Commons could be used for restaurants.
Hudson’s downtown also has several empty storefronts that restaurants could fill, but many believe the commercial district desperately needs more parking before it could handle more businesses.
“I have no problem with more licenses coming to town,” said Nick Pizzimento, whose family has owned the Horseshoe Pub & Restaurant on South Street for 35 years, “but there’s not enough parking to support what we have now.
“The licenses are great but if they came after the parking situation gets fixed, I would think there would be no problem,” he said.
Moses said the results of a recently launched downtown parking study should be available later this year, and referred to a recent Globe story that found some cities and towns only perceive that they have a parking problem.
“We’ll see how much of each element our own study uncovers,” he said.
Pizzimento said he would welcome the added competition brought on by new liquor licenses, but he also noted that the new licenses would devalue existing licenses that could be sold on the secondary market.
He said licenses in Hudson could fetch $100,000 now.
“Obviously if you keep it, it will not make a difference either way,” he said. “But when they decide to sell, they will lose. That’s not fair to them, I don’t think.”
Pizzimento also said the plan to turn Hudson into a restaurant destination is not guaranteed.
“Worcester has Shrewsbury Street as a great place for restaurants, but you also see a lot of places opening and closing constantly,” he said. “That’s part of everyday doing business. Could it work, sure, but it might not work; yeah, it might blow up in your face.”
If the new licenses are awarded to the town, Moses said, they would help boost the local economy in several ways.
“It has a ripple effect,” he said. “In addition to being good for getting tourists and people from other towns to come to Hudson, it creates jobs in a very difficult job market.”