Posted by: Debbie Abrams Kaplan | January 11, 2010

Liquor Licenses

I’ve been fascinated with the liquor license issue in New Jersey. When Mark and I went house-hunting, we searched our downtown one night for a glass of wine. It was 5:00 and we weren’t ready for dinner. We went into several restaurants who said they were BYOB. We went into an Italian restaurant with a bar, but you had to order food in order to get a drink. We felt like we were alcoholics, wandering around town in search of a libation.

We ended up at the Jolly Trolley (now called the Office Bar & Grill) where we were served our drink. It turns out our downtown only has a handful of liquor licenses.

We also know that our Trader Joes has the only TJ liquor license in New Jersey, making it quite popular indeed (in they sell wine & beer – no hard liquor). Whole Foods wants to get liquor licenses, but says that NJ law (dating to just post-prohibition times) won’t allow any person or company to have more than 2 liquor licenses no matter how many stores they own in the state. Read more here.

This weekend a friend told me that our town actually has 12 liquor licenses, but only 4 in operation. Rumor has it that the other 8 are held by the local Presbyterian church – the one that dominates the downtown and has been around 1728. She says the church is holding on to these so they can’t be used.

However, a 2003 article in our local paper did not confirm that. The story said the town has 10 retail licenses, four plenary licenses, five restaurant restricted licenses, seven retail distribution licenses (including TJs and wine or liquor stores), plus three club licenses (including one for the Italian-American Club). Of the restaurants they list, some are out of business, so I’m not sure what happened to those licenses.

You can buy a license through Prudential Realty (but none are available in our town). And I found a guy online who brokers liquor license deals. He says he brokered the Trader Joe’s deal. Here’s the page where he quotes the price for such licenses. Apparently they’re a steal now, at more than a hundred thousand dollars off their 2008 prices. You’re looking at upwards of $450,000 for a license.

Not that bringing your own wine is a bad thing – you can save a lot of money by bringing your own wine, as this story points out.


  1. It seems to me that someone needs to do a leveraged buyout of the church, and then re-sell the liquor licenses!

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