The Township Council renewed the liquor license for South End Liquors on Orange Road Tuesday night, but gave its owner a stern warning. LINDA MOSS/STAFF

By LINDA MOSS
moss@montclairlocal.news

Warning the establishment to keep its sidewalk clean and to stop loiterers, the Township Council on Tuesday night renewed the liquor license of South End Liquors, and gave its approval to three other licenses, including two so-called “pocket” licenses owned by Montclair commercial landlord and developer Dick Grabowsky.

At the local governing body’s conference meeting both Mayor Robert Jackson and Fourth Ward Councilwoman Renée Baskerville offered stern warnings to Viral Patel, owner of South End Liquors at 310 Orange Road, which has a license to distribute liquor.

At its June 20 meeting, the council declined to take action on renewing South End’s license, which expired June 30, noting that the shop had been cited by the state Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control for selling liquor to a minor.

On Tuesday South End’s attorney, Robert C. Williams, acknowledged that the liquor store had been charged earlier this year with selling to a minor, that it was in the process of resolving those charges and would be penalized by the state Division of ABC.

Since that incident, the store has taken a number of measures to discourage minors from trying to buy liquor at the shop, by posting warning signs and buying a scanner that can detect counterfeit licenses, Williams told the council. And when the council declined to act on South End’s license renewal last month, the shop was forced to go to Trenton to get an ad interim license, which expires July 30, causing the owner an added expense, according to the lawyer.

Developer Dick Grabowsky got approvals for two inactive liquor licenses that he owns, including one formerly used at the now-closed Richie Cecere’s Restaurant & Bar. LINDA MOSS/STAFF

But Jackson, Baskerville and Fourth Ward resident William Scott all raised concerns about the store not keeping its street clean, with garbage spreading beyond it and people hanging out in front of the shop. Scott said he himself often went to the site to pick up trash there.

“Candidly, my concern comes more from the issue Mr. Scott made earlier, the neighborhood issues,” Jackson said. “If you drive by South End Liquors … it looks like it should be someplace else. It doesn’t look like an establishment befitting the South End business district. … It just does not look like somebody who wants to be a real, meaningful positive member of our community.”

Baskerville said she had several conversations with the owner about enhancing the look of the liquor store and the issues of trash outside it, to no avail.

“It’s really a blight to a community that’s moving in a different direction,” she said.

Williams told the council that South End Liquors and Patel had gotten its message now, and that the concerns were “legitimate.” Patel was at the council meeting.

In June the council also balked and declined to renew two inactive liquor consumption licenses held by Grabowsky, one from the now-closed Rascals Comedy Club on Bloomfield Avenue and the other from the now-defunct Richie Cecere’s Restaurant and Supperclub, near the Walnut Street train station. On Tuesday the council renewed those licenses without comment.

It also renewed the consumption liquor license for Trumpets Jazz Club and Restaurant, which had been tardy getting a sales-clearance certificate from the state.

DEBT POLICY

In other action on Tuesday, the council passed a resolution establishing a municipal debt policy.

The resolution noted that the township had reduced its debt from $223 million in 2012 to $178 million, which includes $77 million of school debt, $71 million of municipal debt, and $30 million of utility debt. With that fiscal improvement, the township’s bond rating jumped to AAA in 2016, after being rated as low as AA- in 2012, according to the resolution.

The council reaffirmed its commitment to reducing debt by at least $2 million annually, with outstanding debt year-end targets of $175 million for 2017, $170 million for 2019, and $160 million for 2023, the resolution said.