NEW BEDFORD — City liquor stores have a nine-month reprieve to unload stocks of little booze bottles known as “nips” before a ban takes effect.
After hearing pleas for an extension of the Nov. 1, 2023, effective date that was set in July for the ban on bottles of 100 milliliters or less, the Licensing Board’s three commissioners in a special meeting Wednesday night voted unanimously to set a new date of Aug. 1, 2024.
Among others, the board heard from a lawyer for 20 liquor stores and from members of the City Council, which had previously voted to ask the Licensing Board to consider an extension of the ban. Several council members had also spoken against the ban in July at the crowded, raucous meeting when the board voted to impose the order.
Proponents of the ban, which Mayor Jon Mitchell had asked the board to consider, argued in the summer that city streets, parking lots, parks and beaches are strewn with empty nips. Opponents argued that the ban would hurt local small businesses and unfairly single out this one type of litter in a sprawling clutter of fast-food containers, plastic bottles, cigarette butts and lottery tickets.
An appeal of the ban is now before the Massachusetts Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission, which heard arguments in late September. The ABCC could conceivably reverse the local order, but in a similar appeal of a nips ban imposed in Chelsea, the ABCC ruled in 2020 that the agency did not have the authority to overturn the city decision.
New Bedford Licensing Board Commissioner Ricard Rezendes, who made the motion for the nine-month extension — shorter than recommended by some speakers — said the time allotment was an attempt to strike a balance.
“I want to be fair to business people and also to people concerned about the litter,” he said. He noted that the lawyer for the liquor stores told commissioners that his clients estimate it would take them nine to 12 months to sell their supplies of nips.
The lawyer, Armand Fernandes Jr., a retired judge of the state trial, probate and family courts, also told the board in the session at the Fort Taber Community Center that 15 of the 20 liquor store owners he represents said they would lose about $300,000 a year in sales from the ban.
Fernandes said after he spoke to the board that liquor stores cannot legally sell their stock back to their suppliers.
After he spoke, about 30 people, apparently all owners he represented and their associates, got up and left the meeting.
Board Chairman Edmund F. Craig Jr. made clear from the start that the special meeting was only to consider a possible extension, not the ban itself, which he said is under appeal. Most speakers stuck to that limit.
Councilor-at-Large Naomi R.A. Carney urged commissioners to extend the ban date 12 to 18 months. She said retail stores — including chain operations much larger than local liquor outlets — were given 18 months to comply with a plastic bags ban. Small business owners should be given that much leeway in this case, she said.
“They cannot afford to lose millions of dollars, and that’s what we’re looking at, so please, please, please push it back at least a year,” Carney said.
After the meeting she said the nine months is “better than nothing. I would rather see a year.”
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She said if by the deadline liquor store owners have not sold all their nips stocks, the council would ask the board to consider another extension.
Ward 6 Councilor Ryan Pereira, who argued for an extension, said he was not happy with the outcome. As the board imposed a permanent ban, he said it seemed that more time would be reasonable.
“It’s mind-boggling,” he said, especially considering that “no one said this would be catastrophic” if an extension were granted.
No one spoke at the meeting opposing an extension outright, but Joyce Rowley, a candidate for an at-large council seat this year, argued for only a nine-month extension and said she favored the ban.
Opposition was conveyed to the board in some mix of emails, letters and phone calls, said Ryan A. Pavao, associate city solicitor who is assigned to the Licensing Board. He could not provide further details.
New Bedford is one of several Massachusetts communities that have banned nips, including Chelsea, Newton, Falmouth, Wareham, Mashpee and Brewster, according to published news accounts. Fairhaven adopted a ban in May that will take effect in January.
Also considering bans are Boston, Quincy and Chicopee. Ware, a town about halfway between Worcester and Springfield, rejected a nips ban in May.
Email Arthur Hirsch at email@example.com