New Jersey's rules concerning liquor licenses would be flipped upside down if legislation awaiting action in Trenton becomes law.

(Comstock, ThinkStock)
(Comstock, ThinkStock)

The measure, introduced earlier this year by Assemblyman John Burzichelli (D-West Deptford), would create two new, cheaper versions of a liquor license for restaurants only in the Garden State.

Based on the eatery's size and the types of alcohol they'd like on their menu, the fee would run anywhere from $1,500 to $10,000 per year, and municipalities would be allowed to hand out an unlimited number of licenses.

Currently, a license is not permitted unless the ratio in the town is less than one license for every 3,000 people. In some parts of the state, a liquor license could cost more than $1 million.

Under the measure, alcohol can only be served to a table in connection with the service of food. Bar areas are prohibited.

Craig Contegiacomo, owner of That's Amore Italian Grill on Route 9 in Englishtown, said he's always been interested in the idea of a liquor license, but the price tag kept him away. So with this proposal, his business would "benefit greatly."

"It would not only increase revenue; it would draw different clientele," he said. "We do well, but alcohol can always make us do a little better."

His establishment has had a BYOB system during its nine years of operation.

The measure is not getting a thumbs-up from everyone, however. There is the overwhelming concern of how this affects current license holders who've already spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on permission to serve alcohol.

"It creates an uneven playing field," said Marilou Halvorsen, president of the New Jersey Restaurant & Hospitality Association.

Keeping current licensees in mind, the bill would provide these businesses a tax credit to compensate them for any drop in value of their licenses. A portion of restaurants' purchases of the new licenses would go directly to the tax credit pool.

When introducing the legislation, Burzichelli, cited a "complete lack" of available licenses in many municipalities. The bill has been referred to the Assembly Regulatory Oversight Committee, but has not seen action in months.

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