Gov. Murphy Hosts Liquor License Reform Roundtable
Senior Planner, Mercer Planning Associates
February 23, 2023
Downtown New Jersey, the state’s premier advocacy organization for downtowns, attended Governor Murphy’s roundtable discussion with local restauranteurs and lawmakers about his plan to reform New Jersey’s antiquated liquor license laws. The legislative proposal would increase the availability of liquor licenses gradually over five years. The framework for the legislation includes:
- phasing out the population cap;
- providing local control;
- establishing a new process and fees for acquiring liquor licenses;
- removing burdens on breweries, wineries, and distilleries;
- restoring inactive liquor licenses to boost availability; and
- providing a means to compensate existing liquor license holders.
Governor Murphy explained that “those who have done this have seen a major boom in their downtowns.” The Governor hopes the legislation will help create affordable access to liquor licenses for minority business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs, as well as accelerate an economic comeback for the restaurant and hospitality industry after the pandemic. Senator Gordon Johnson (D-37) agreed with the governor, explaining how “this is about ensuring that small, local businesses can compete with chains,” and how this is really about equity.
Local restaurant owners shared how the proposed legislative changes would support their businesses and help them recover from the effects of the pandemic. They reported that business has not returned to pre-pandemic levels and that expanded access to liquor licenses would help bring diners back. Ehren Ryan, the owner of Common Lot in Millburn, explained that access to a liquor license would diversify revenue streams to help restaurants stay viable. The owners of Sabor Y Arte Restaurant in Elizabeth and Miti Miti Latin Street Food in South Orange shared that the limited availability of liquor licenses in NJ is keeping them from opening more restaurants in the state.
Across the board, roundtable participants agreed that having more licenses would attract people to downtowns to help them thrive. Assemblyman Raj Mukherji (D-33) explained that “we need to shift our thinking away from competing, to one that understands that a vibrant food scene where any small business can serve liquor will attract more people to the area.” Mukherji further expressed that “right now, we are stifling growth and keeping the hospitality industry from reaching its potential.”
Janice Kovach, Mayor of Clinton Town, bemoaned that “local elected officials are blamed for lack of liquor licenses” and what is really happening is that towns like Clinton with “smaller populations are locked out.” Kovach said that “local control is important for providing opportunity to the business community, while also respecting the desires of local residents.”
Governor Murphy’s goal is for legislation to be enacted by the end of 2023, with changes starting as early as January 2024.
Downtown New Jersey is part of the Liquor License Reform Alliance, which was formed to show broad and diverse support for changing New Jersey’s archaic liquor license laws that are an impediment to many restaurants’ ability to survive and thrive. The alliance is calling for reform to help our small businesses, promote equity, and enable New Jersey to better compete in the regional market. For more information about how you can support liquor license reform, visit downtownnj.com/liquor-reform/.