Interest from a winery, a distillery, and a second craft brewery have led the borough government to tighten its zoning code to prohibit such businesses from coming into town while it explores their impact.
By Matt Skoufalos | August 2, 2016
Alcohol laws in Collingswood are about to change again, becoming more restrictive before possibly expanding.
At its August government meeting, Mayor Jim Maley introduced an amendment to the borough code that would prohibit any new business from operating in Collingswood with a Class C New Jersey liquor license.
Under state law, such licenses have allowed local craft beverage-makers to operate tasting rooms and distribute alcohol manufactured onsite in towns where the sale of alcohol is otherwise prohibited.
“It’s amending that prohibition to be more expansive so that we can look at the use cases,” Maley said Monday. “We’re eliminating ‘brewery’ from the definition of prohibited uses to include wineries [and] distilleries. It covers all the licenses and makes them all prohibited.”
The borough underwent the same process before opening the door to its lone microbrewery, Devil’s Creek, which, as an established business, will be unaffected by the change. Instead, the prohibition keeps any new, alcohol-related businesses from opening in the borough until local leaders can explore the impacts of their models.
Maley said the borough has been approached by one Jersey winery, one distillery, and a second craft brewery about coming into town, “all without [Collingswood having] a liquor license.”
“It’s globally a good thing,” he said.
“We just want to make sure that the way it gets set up here is good for our community,” Maley said. “We’re going to start seeing how we can make provision for it in the zoning code.”
The mayor said the New Jersey vineyard by which he’d been contacted wants to bring a retail outlet for its wines to the borough downtown business district.
The other businesses have not expressed interest in any specific location.
Under Chapter 141 of the Collingswood municipal code, the list of prohibited uses in the borough also includes ice or roller skating rinks, movie houses, massage or tattoo parlors, bowling alleys, pool halls, flea markets, discos and nightclubs, accessory apartments, boarding homes, and community residential homes.
Maley said that no other business has approached the local government to ask for relief from those prohibitions, but that if one were to, “we’ll take a look at it.”
Devon Perry, executive director for the regional marketing organization Visit South Jersey, said that adding more craft beverage businesses to local downtowns like Collingswood’s can help strengthen the regional economy.
Speaking Monday from the annual convention for destination marketing professionals in Minneapolis, Perry said South Jersey should be looking to catch up to other areas throughout the country that have taken advantage of similar opportunities.
“We are surrounded by leading destinations that have emerging craft beverage assets,” she said. “They are all bringing those assets to areas where our populations are living, working, and visiting; from farms, from the vineyards, into the downtowns.
“Visit South Jersey needs to look at these other regions as benchmarks,” Perry said. “I believe that our phenomenal downtown assets are encouraging the trend.”
Larry Sharrott, Jr. of Sharrott Winery, which has partnered with Collingswood restaurants The Tortilla Press and Woksabi to distribute its products in the borough for about five years, said the program is mutually beneficial to both wineries and BYO restaurants, particularly as they compete against full-service restaurants in non-dry towns.
“It’s a competition, particularly in the Collingswood area, where you have those chain restaurants that opened by the Cherry Hill Mall,” Sharrott said. “People will come to the winery and ask, ‘Where is your wine sold?’ People will consume the bottle at a restaurant and end up at our winery buying wine.”
Sharrott described the concept for the downtown winery retail outlet as a “remote tasting room,” which he said is common statewide and nationwide.
They offer “controlled tastings” with a limited amount of wine provided per guest, and sales by the bottle, not the glass.
“If you go into the town of Sonoma, there are probably three or four of these tasting rooms, and they allow group tasting rooms, where you can taste four small wineries in one place,” Sharrott said.
“These are viable, valuable tourist attractions for communities. I think it makes those downtowns more attractive.”
Nearby, other, historically dry communities like Haddonfield and Haddon Heights have had street festivals with wine-tasting events to benefit their local business districts, and have drawn significant interest from shoppers and visitors. Beyond that, all three communities host long-running farmers markets, and as Sharrott pointed out, New Jersey wine is, foremost, a local agricultural product.
“You have to make it locally, you have to have a farm, you have to grow grapes,” he said.
The Tortilla Press co-owner Lydia Cipriani said she thinks additional craft beverage outlets can only benefit the borough downtown, which is solidly restaurant-centric, and built around the bring-your-own alcohol model.
“I think it adds a needed dimension to Collingswood’s restaurant community,” Cipriani said. “Although people love the idea of a BYO concept, having wineries and breweries in town can only be good for business.”
Including the Tortilla Press, five restaurants in Collingswood participate in the Jersey Fresh winery partnership program, which allows for New Jersey wineries to retail their products by the glass or the bottle in a BYO restaurant.
However, the program also limits restaurant owners to partnering with a single winery, which Cipriani said “wasn’t designed to help restaurant revenue.”
“It was designed to help vineyards, and that’s exactly what it’s doing,” she said. “Restaurants run at a profit; we are small businesses too. It’s nice to see something else come to Collingswood to enhance that profit.”
Cipriani’s husband, Tortilla Press Chef Mark Smith, said he hoped the eventual addition of other alcohol options in the borough represents a shift in thinking on the part of borough leadership “that the evilness of liquor is not what it was [understood to be].
“I don’t see how bringing more people into town one way or another can be bad for us,” Smith said. “If they’re coming in to tour the distillery, hopefully they’re going to come out to eat. I don’t think it can hurt us unless they let them start selling food.”
‘Stopping and sticking around’
Scott Donnini of Auburn Road Vineyard and Winery said he understands the borough’s interest in municipal control associated with the evolution of the craft beverage marketplace, and called it “pretty savvy.”
Donnini argued that instead of opening the door for drunkenness, however, Class C plenary licenses allow restaurants to serve their patrons more safely by limiting sales to one bottle at a time.
“It actually breeds temperance as opposed to the other way around,” he said. “If you’re selling the wine, it’s our job to control consumption.”
Donnini praised the governments of Collingswood, Haddonfield, and Haddon Heights for “embracing” local wine while also keeping it under strict regulation.
“To do it in a way that is promoting the kind of tourism you want, the kind of moderate consumption of alcohol that is healthy for a society, I think that’s a very enlightened way to be,” he said. “I applaud them for exploring it. They are broad-minded, and they have been very supportive of local, small business and local tourism.”
As more communities explore the possible impact of adding a winery, distillery, or craft brewery to their economies, Donnini expects they will see greater foot traffic overall.
“For us, people are stopping and sticking around,” he said. “You could have the revitalization of little towns here because people are stopping by and sticking around in them instead of using them as throughways.”
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