New round of debate set on N.J.'s liquor license

Proponents of an overhaul of New Jersey’s liquor-license laws are expecting to gain some traction this year after decades of proposals and legislation kicking around unsuccessfully.

Assemblyman John Burzichelli, D-Gloucester, has been circulating a rough draft of a bill that would update the state’s liquor laws. He’s been talking about the issue with “select groups” of stakeholders, including restaurant owners and real estate developers. In New Jersey, liquor licenses range from $50,000 to more than $2 million, which critics say is putting a damper on economic development.

From left, Nicole Torres of Cliffside Park, Anna Montenegro of Oakland, Christian Guzman of Hasbrouck Heights and Samantha Perez of Little Ferry at Miller's Ale House in Paramus on Sunday.  

Advocates say a change in the laws — which could include issuing more licenses — would spur restaurant openings throughout the Garden State and boost redevelopment projects in ailing urban and suburban downtowns.

Burzichelli, chairman of the Assembly Appropriations Committee, said he hoped to have a final draft of his legislation introduced next month. Calling his bill a work in progress, he declined to discuss it in detail. But he did say that it will address the main issue that has stymied liquor-law change in the past: finding a way to protect and compensate current license holders who fear a change would devalue their licenses.

“It’s my intention to take the subject up in earnest in mid-September,” Burzichelli said. “It’s very clear to me that the world surrounding liquor licenses has changed dramatically. We’ve gone from a society that used to see liquor as a-shot-and-a-beer joint on the corner. We’ve evolved into a society of casual dining and white-tablecloth dining where liquor complements the experience but doesn’t drive the experience.”

Those who hold licenses and those interested in obtaining licenses “recognize that something new has to be struck,” he said.

Even the longtime opponent of any change in the laws, the New Jersey Restaurant Association, appears to be reexamining the issue.

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