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Opinion: Lobbyists push bills to flood us with liquor licenses, push out needed stores

BY LESLIE CLARK | The restaurant-liquor industrial complex is on a roll. Unless they are stopped, they’re going to roll right over our neighborhoods. For years, the “hospitality sector” has wanted less interference from the “community” and more freedom to sell cocktails on the sidewalk, the roadway, in the cellar and on the rooftop. And their wishes are coming true.

Today lobbyists are crowing over “significant changes” to liquor licensing laws in the governor’s budget that will shorten the window of time in which residents can even find out about applications for new bars in their neighborhood before they’re licensed. And the “temporary” pandemic provisions allowing a bar’s indoor liquor license to move outdoors is now permanent. Looks like our governor thinks there’s nothing wrong with carrying trays of margaritas across chaotic bike lanes to a plywood-and-plastic roadway shack. It’s called “updating” the law! Takeaway drinks? That’s still temporary — for a “temporary “five years.

As if that weren’t enough, there are still two more bills before the state Legislature that are very friendly to lobbyists — and decidedly unfriendly to residents of neighborhoods like ours, which has the highest ratio of bars to residents in all of New York State.

The first is A8427a, a bill that would allow landlords to quickly flip previously unlicensed spaces to yet more bars with full-on, on-premises liquor licenses. Technical language here: A “previously unlicensed space” is that shoe repair shop, stationery store, laundromat or hardware store that you actually need if you live in New York City. The current law’s intent is that on-premises licenses should be issued only after a thoughtful, multi-step process that considers whether it’s in the “public interest” to open yet another liquor-dispensing business in an area already with plenty of them. It’s such a serious decision that state law says that only the full board of the State Liquor Authority has the right and power to decide on what is in the “public interest.”

But the new legislation — sponsored by state Senator Jessica Ramos and Assemblymember Harvey Epstein — would allow a landlord to dispose of that butcher, baker or new-tech maker by making it oh so easy for a new bar to get a “temporary” license (which will be paying top-dollar rent to that landlord). All of this would happen before the State Liquor Authority has exercised its unique power to determine just what the “public interest” means on your street.

Why would any legislator want to help a landlord convert a shoe repair space to a bar — and fast? The standard reason is that the S.L.A. has a long licensing backlog. This legislation would cut the waiting time by giving a “temporary” license to that bar before the full legal licensing process has been completed.

But is that license really “temporary”? Once that bar is up and running with its “temporary” license, will the S.L.A. really take it away if the authority finally decides that it is not in the “public interest”? No way. Anyone who watches S.L.A. hearings regularly knows that bar owners easily convince the commissioners that the bar owner’s economic needs are the S.L.A.’s economic imperative — i.e., get them licensed and keep them licensed!

So, the Legislature is now poised to solve a truly temporary licensing backlog with yet more “temporary” licenses that won’t be temporary at all. Look around your neighborhood. Once a storefront flips from mom-and-pop bodega to buzz-fed bar, has it ever flipped back to something that you might find useful — like a hardware store or children’s clothing store? And with permanent outdoor dining, that bar isn’t just on your corner anymore. It’s on your sidewalk and your roadway, under foot as you try to walk by and underneath your windows.

And, by the way, the “public interest” requirement? That comes from a 1993 law (the Padavan Law a.k.a. the 500-Foot Rule) that has given residents a fighting chance to challenge the rampant invasion of bars, restaurants and nightclubs in their neighborhoods for the last 30 years. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that the Legislature is also considering a bill — S6785, sponsored by state Senator James Skoufis from the oh-so-quiet Hudson Valley — that would get rid of that safeguard against bar oversaturation, too. Why? Because some legislators think that considering the “public interest” gets in the way of “economic development” — a popular legislative term that translates as: “We can’t think of any other way to get more tax revenues than by pushing alcohol — and cannabis and casinos.”

You might want to let your state legislator know that you are part of the “public” and that it is in the Legislature’s “interest” to hear your opinions on appropriate “economic development.”

Clark is a member, West Village Residents Association.


  1. East Village Elizabeth East Village Elizabeth April 28, 2024

    Harvey use to be on the right side of issues. Why he got in bed with the lobbyist and faux-gressive Hospitality Alliance and backed Jessica Ramos, who thinks she can be mayor (but can’t), is baffling.

    His new bill makes the temporary bill that just passed even worse. Supposedly, as rumored among the EV activist crowd, Harvey met with residents and did a snow job on them. Told them he made the bill better. Huh?

    You can kiss goodbye your dry cleaner, quirky gift shop and local bodega. Landlords will not be extending leases when they can be guaranteed a liquor license in an unlicensed space and charge a ridiculous amount of rent for it.

    Trying to remake NYC into Atlantic City is asinine. Might as well let Trump resurrect his Taj Mahal here. FFS we know how AC turned out.

    We have no champions, no real leaders in Albany or City Hall. Bills like this show how lawmakers never work for their constituents once they are voted in. The East Village is in crisis, with terrible quality of life from the over-licensing of liquor and this is the bill Harvey wants to hang his hat on? SMH.

  2. stuart stuart April 25, 2024

    Alcohol, canabis and casinos! Throw in check-cashing joints and the lottery and it’s a wonderful life in Potterville! What a shame our electeds, and especially the ones that represent us East Villagers, don’t even try to present the appearance of giving a damn about the state of our part of town. Ever since Covid, Assemblymember Epstein and his counterpart Carlina Rivera have refused to stand up for the obvious need of restraint when it comes to restaurants and bars eating up our commercial landscape. They have done just the opposite. Courting the hospitality alliance, they’ve used pandemic-era measures to strengthen the stranglehold of this single industry and, now with Epstein’s proposed A8427a, launch a direct assault against the last of our neighborhood stores with a “fast-pass” to a liquor license. Ugh. I sure wish Mr. Epstein and Ms. Rivera could’ve been in my shoes when I had to slip them on last Sunday morning at 2 am by music pounding through two buildings from The Fish Bar to me in my bed. Despite the fact that we’re neighbors, why do I think that they are somehow insulated from such minor interruptions?

  3. BrooklynSandy BrooklynSandy April 25, 2024

    Friends know about her Buffalo family — where her husband was a major lawyer for the gaming industry, basically a mob lawyer — one of the biggest clients was the company that owns most of the sports concessions in NY. Liquor sales of course totally are related to that.

  4. SVN SVN April 25, 2024

    Take a minute to write your State Senator and Assembly Member — and copy these bill sponsors — to tell them your views on this legislation.

    You can find your NY State elected officials on these websites:

    If you live in the East Village, your Assembly Member, Harvey Epstein, is sponsoring one of these neighborhood-wrecking pieces of legislation, so you’d be contacting him directly.

    Write, email, or call him today:

    Assembly Member Harvey Epstein
    107 & 109 Avenue B
    New York, NY 10009

    Bill sponsors to copy when emailing your elected officials (if Epstein is not your representative!)

    Assembly Member Harvey Epstein

    State Senator Jessica Ramos

    State Senator James Skoufis — sponsor of S6785, legislation to eliminate the 500-foot-rule can be found here:


  5. Mad as Hell Mad as Hell April 25, 2024

    Under what circumstances exactly will the SLA refuse to make a temporary license permanent — if the street’s residents complain in force about the occupation of their block from corner to corner with bars? If the corner-to-corner bars are already ignoring residents’ rights (including right to quiet enjoyment of their own homes)? No, of course not. This favoring of a tiny fraction of the state’s economy that historically specializes in sub-minimum wages and infuriating their immediate neighbors while catering primarily (and often solely) to alcohol tourism stinks of overpaid lobbyists wielding massaged and speculative data to further an exploitative industry at the expense of people who actually have to deal with the problem seven nights a week and their trash and eyesore shacks and sheds all day long.

  6. Sam Sam April 25, 2024

    Restaurants and bars are already oversaturated in many areas and basically cannibalizing each other.

    There are many blocks with just one food place after another.

    It is incredible the restaurant lobby ignores this and keeps pressing for “more.”

    Not everything can and should be a restaurant/bar/food place.

  7. Allie Ryan Allie Ryan April 24, 2024

    This afternoon I chatted with a friend who owns a bar, and she complained that city agencies are making it difficult to run a bar. Maybe instead of fast-tracking bars and restaurants to serve alcohol, legislators (aka elected representatives) should review the laws governing the day-to-day operations and talk to real restauranteurs to better understand how to help restaurants and bars stay in business. (It’s probably not the above bills, but repealing congestion pricing or waiving the fee to remove a restaurant shed when the restauranteur arranges the destruction of its shed before it’s removed by the City.)

  8. Brooklyn Two Cents Brooklyn Two Cents April 24, 2024

    So nobody can afford an apartment in NYC, but it’ll be easier to get drunk while living in a tent. Sounds about right.

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