During an overcast summer afternoon on tree-lined Main Street, quiet saturates the surroundings, mostly caused by an unbearable wave of mid-summer heat infusing the region.
Some folks are boiling hot—not because of the weather, but over the controversial push to allow a referendum in November on whether to discard the town’s nearly century-old dry status and permit liquor licenses.
Over the last couple of weeks, a has been circulating, led by Joe Coradino, president of the Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust (PREIT), who owns the . And, if enough voters sign, upward of 2,000, residents may see restaurants at the mall selling alcoholic beverages.
For decades, patrons have been allowed to bring alcohol—a bottle of wine or a six-pack of beer—into the upscale BYOBs in this town of Quaker roots.
But now, the question of liquor licenses is fermenting on the minds of a number of restaurant owners, who fear the infusion from dry to wet could change Moorestown’s image as a family town. Furthermore, there is worry over competition from chain restaurants, the ones more capable of buying the costly licenses.
“No liquor. I live here, and I vacation in Ocean City. Do you know why?” asked John Passariello, an owner of the family-run on Main Street. “Because they are family towns. I’m against liquor sales.”
Proponents suggest that the distribution of licenses could add high-end restaurants to the town’s profitability, granting needed revenue to a cash-strapped municipality, and easing the tax burden on residents and businesses.
“I understand that the town wants to gain more income, but in South Jersey, licenses can run up to $1 million,” said Robert Minniti, owner of , which is open for lunch and special chef’s dinners. “If you do the math, it is pretty much impossible for a small-scale place to do a volume of business to pay for a liquor license.”
Minniti is co-founder of SJ Hot Chefs, a contingent of culinary professionals who own independent restaurants.
“I personally am against chain restaurants coming to this town. They don’t contribute to the community.”
But Minniti adds, he has spent years trying to provide great food and good service and isn’t too worried about competition, since he has a loyal following.
A couple of doors down, newcomer Mike Picciau, who recently took over , said he worries what the upshot of this contest over cocktails will be.
“I don’t think it would be fair for a restaurant at the mall to sell liquor. Let’s face it, the restaurants at the mall are my neighbors, even if they aren’t next door,” scoffed Picciau. “Everyone should be on the same playing field.”
Not everyone thinks liquor licenses are a bad idea.
When asked if she is apprehensive over the liquor-license buzz, Lisa Zheng, co-owner of Akira 2, shrugs. As much as she likes the way the town is, she would prefer to sell drinks at her sushi and hibachi restaurant.
“We have customers who come from other areas for our food. They don’t realize this is a dry town, and they want to buy a drink,” said Zheng. “If we could get a license, we would.”