ROCKPORT — The decision of whether to grant a liquor license to an incoming grocery store rests in the hands of Rockport residents now, after Gov. Deval Patrick signed off on state legislation approving a beer and wine license for a grocery store in town.
Rockporters now just have to vote on whether or not the town should allocate the license. Selectmen will decide if the town should hold an early vote to ratify the license. But, until a grocer proposes moving into town, a special election seems unlikely, according to Selectmen Chairwoman Erin Battistelli.
“We’re going to be prudent. We don’t want to spend the money if we don’t have to,” Battistelli said in a telephone interview Friday.
Battistelli said selectmen have yet to discuss the issue in depth, but are aware that a special election could be costly for the town. Instead, selectmen may opt to have residents vote on the ballot in May at the regular election.
Supporters of the legislation have long said the license for a full-service food store to sell malt beverages and wine would attract potential grocers to Rockport by giving the grocers one more product to sell. That was the intention of the legislation, said Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester, who sponsored it, and of Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante, D- Gloucester, who petitioned the bill along with Tarr.
“The availability of a liquor license is a powerful tool to recruit a food store to Rockport, and now that tool is on the table,” Tarr said. “I am confident that it will be used effectively by town officials and the business community to address what has been increasingly identified as a need by residents.”
Ferrante, like many residents, said she hoped the grocery store would spur economic development as well as providing a convenient place for Rockporters to pick up groceries.
“I am pleased that the Legislature is able to help Rockport by providing an important economic development tool to attract a viable and important food store to the town of Rockport,” Ferrante said.
While the legislation specifies that the license could only be granted to a store that “shall carry fresh and processed meats, poultry, dairy products, eggs, fresh fruits and produce, baked goods and baking ingredients, canned goods and dessert items.”
Though the license could be assigned to any location, many have speculated that the most likely spot for a supermarket would be the former IGA store property in Whistlestop Mall, owned by Jay Smith. Smith and his family distributed links to an Internet survey all around town and, according to Smith, 15 percent of Rockport’s population has taken it.
Smith said a grocer has yet to step forward and make a formal proposal to bring his store into town. But, the step forward in the process could change that, he said.
“Hopefully this step in the process will encourage them to begin to move forward a little bit more,” Smith said.
Smith hopes to finish reading the results of the survey soon and publicly announce his findings. So far, he said, its already evident that those who took the survey are in favor of a grocery store locating in Rockport. But, Smith said, he cannot know for sure until residents vote.
“You tend to get that sense, but it’s not over until it’s over,” Smith said.
Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at email@example.com.