An ordinance introduced last month to force Union City liquor store owners to stop selling alcoholic beverages after 10 p.m. was reversed by the New Jersey Department of Law and Public Safety's Division of Alcohol and Beverage Control last week.
The ordinance, originally introduced by the city's Board of Commissioners at their Oct. 16 meeting, was taken off the agenda for a final vote at the next meeting. However, the two other ordinances dealing with liquor establishments that were introduced last month will be up for public hearing at the board's Nov. 27 meeting.
One of the ordinances will require all bars and restaurants to stop serving or delivering alcohol by 2 a.m., instead of 3 a.m.
Union City Mayor Brian Stack said that these ordinances have been introduced to improve the quality of life in the city. The ordinances were drafted after receiving many complaints from residents about noise and large groups outside the neighborhood bars and clubs.
"This is just going to show that we are taking quality of life issues seriously," said Stack last week.
The other ordinance will raise the cost of renewing liquor licenses.
Originally, these ordinances would have been up for public hearing and final passage at the Board of Commissioners' Nov. 13 meeting. However, the Nov. 13 meeting was postponed, so the hearings and votes will take place Nov. 27.
Union City is home to 155 liquor-selling establishments. According to numbers in City Hall, the city has 100 restaurants or bars, 17 liquor stores and 38 grocery stores that are permitted to sell (but not serve) beer. As the city's ordinances stand now, these establishments are able to sell wine and beer products from 7 a.m. to 3 a.m.
A new ordinance introduced last month was looking to suspend the sale of beer and wine by stores after 10 p.m.
However, the state told Union City that a city its size could not establish different hours for liquor stores to sell alcohol than it had for bars and restaurants to serve it. The city's proposed ordinances cut liquor-selling hours to 10 p.m. but only cut liquor-serving hours until 2 a.m. In a letter from Attorney General John J. Farmer to Union City License Inspector Leonard Lucente received last week, only a city of the "first class" is able to establish separate hours for sales licenses and consumption licenses and for sales for consumption on the premises and consumption off the premises. A city of the first class is defined as a city having a population greater than 150,000 people. Union City only has 67,088 people.
In response, Stack has met with 14 of the 17 storeowners and has reached a gentleman's agreement with the merchants.
The agreement, which Stack said he hasn't received in writing yet, will state that the liquor stores agree to close at 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday and at 11:45 p.m. on Friday through Sunday.
"Closing earlier might possibly improve the quality of life," said Larry Wainstein, owner of Twin City Liquors, who has been closing his liquor store at 10 p.m. for the past 30 years. "We will have a clean and safe environment for Union City residents and people coming in."
Wainstein is also a member of the Urban Enterprise Zone Development Corporation. That corporation is also working hard to keep the business districts cleaner.
"This is all happening because of a few bad apples out there," said Wainstein. "People have to understand that."
Stack said that he is going to seek state legislation that would take the population requirement out of the current law for setting hours on retail licenses.
While the liquor storeowners seem to have come to a compromise, the bar and restaurant owners are not happy with the ordinance introduced to close their establishments at 2 a.m. rather than 3 a.m. This ordinance was not reversed by the state and is up for public hearing and final adoption on Nov. 27.
"I don't think that it is going to do any good as far as quality of life like the mayor said," said Ramiro Franco, owner of La Corona De Espana, a bar and restaurant in the city.
"We are not just loosing the hour," said Franco, who is also the president of Union City's Bar and Restaurant Association. "We will have to start getting people out at 1:30 a.m."
Franco argued that many people are used to the bars closing at 3 a.m. and already begin leaving on time. With an earlier closing, the owners will have to start making people leave even earlier then they have to just so that their customers get used to the new time.
"These are the worst economic times we have seen in many years," said Franco. "Instead of helping the businesses he is deterring them."
At the Oct. 16 meeting, Stack said that keeping the bars open until 3 a.m. attracts many out of town visitors who come from bars in neighboring communities that close their bars at 2 a.m.
Franco, who disagrees with the mayor said, "After 2 a.m. we are not able to allow people to enter our establishments."
Franco was referring to the city's one-way door policy that states that while liquor can be served until 3 a.m., no new customers can enter a liquor-serving establishment passed 2 a.m.
The other ordinance up for hearing and final adoption on Nov. 27 will raise the cost of renewing a liquor license by 20 percent. After the increase, a plenary retail consumption license, or the license obtained by a bar or restaurant, will cost $1,791. A plenary retail distribution license, the license obtained by a liquor or grocery store, will cost $1,433 to renew each year.
Those numbers are up from $1,493 for a consumption license and $1,194 for a distribution license.