A group of New York legislators are calling for moratorium on new liquor licenses — a move they say will give more power to existing bars and restaurants in the city that are reeling from the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. Many restaurants and bars, though, aren’t on board, saying it could ultimately hinder recovery efforts.
State Assembly member Harvey Epstein, who represents the east side of Manhattan, and six other state legislators have sent a letter to the State Liquor Authority asking that the agency temporarily stop issuing liquor licenses on storefronts that already have existing bars and restaurants in place.
The legislators argue that this will give suffering businesses some negotiating power with their landlords: If landlords aren’t able to replace an existing business that has a liquor license with a similar new businesses, they might be more reluctant to kick the business out, the legislators say.
“This takes away some power from landlords and gives it to small businesses,” Epstein tells Eater. “This is very pro-small business.”
But restaurants and bar advocates say a moratorium on new licenses could end up hurting more than it helps. Andrew Rigie, the CEO of the NYC Hospitality Alliance, which represents thousands of restaurants in the city, says new small businesses looking to get a start once the virus passes may end up having a harder time, and the temporary cap on licenses could potentially lead to empty storefronts if landlords aren’t able to bring in new businesses.
“While we recognize these legislators’ hearts are in the right place in terms of wanting to help small businesses being devastated by this crisis, a moratorium on new liquor licenses is absolutely the wrong approach,” says Rigie in a statement.
Rigie’s organization and other restaurant group advocates want legislators to focus on rent forgiveness, introducing a cap on fees charged by third party services, and direct financial support instead.
As of now, the SLA has no plans to stop processing liquor license applications and “will continue to do so,” an agency spokesperson tells Eater in a statement. “This is a core function of the agency,” the statement says.