As was the case last year, some Morristown restaurants have requested their liquor licenses be expanded to include outdoor areas during the parade, scheduled for March 10.
However, principals at another business––have expressed concerns with the Town Council's 3-1 approval on Tuesday of , , and getting those privileges, after several businesses made a complaint to the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission against Sona Thirteen for a similar intent last year.
"Last year, the state ABC shut us down," said Chris Knoll, with Sona Thirteen. He cited letters submitted to the ABC by several businesses, including Grasshopper off the Green and The Famished Frog, which this year were also seeking outdoor liquor licenses during the parade. "'Due to public safety reasons,'" Knoll quoted. "'Promotes irresponsible drinking.' It's not a level playing field. A year later, it's fine for these bars?"
Brian Fitzpatrick, co-owner of Grasshopper off the Green, however, noted a key difference between his business's application and the one turned down for the complaining competitor.
"It's in the ABC Handbook. It has to be contiguous to your building," he said, noting Sona Thirteen's plan called for a tent to be set up in a space very close to Grasshopper off the Green.
"They were trying to stick it next to my property," Fitzpatrick said. "If they wanted something next to their property, I wouldn't have a problem with it. But, if there are any problems at their tent, it would be associated with my business."
While Knoll acknowledged one of the issues cited was the proposed location of the Sona Thirteen tent, he said his main issue was that the complainants to the ABC had cited a danger of any outdoor drinking as their concern.
"They wrote letters saying putting tents in town would be condoning outdoor drinking and a danger to public safety," Knoll said. "Now, a year later, they turned around and more people are going for tents.
"What's fair is fair," Knoll added. "Don't try and do it the next year. There's a lot of small town politics that goes on. It just happens."
Jim Beers, co-owner of The Famished Frog, however, said his intention for this year's one-day extension has nothing to do with whatever other bars in town plan on doing during the parade.
"For years I have been in negotiations with the landlord [to have outdoor dining and drinking]," he said, noting a space behind his restaurant. "I want to prove to them, if we can make money on it that day, it would be worth it the whole year.
"This is not a 'hey I want to open a tent for a one-day event,'" Beers said. "Whatever Grasshopper, George & Martha's or the Walsh's (the family that owns Sona Thirteen) have done is their business."
During council deliberations on approvals for the three extensions on Feb. 28, Business Administrator Michael Rogers noted "all appropriate officials have signed off on this," which prompted councilmember Stefan Armington to vote in favor of it, after a long pause.
"No one on my side of town has had a problem with this," said the Ward 3 councilman. "The fact they have gone through the process and there have not been historical problems makes me think I don't have a basis to say 'no.'"
Councilwoman Rebecca Feldman, however, did cast the lone "no" vote, as she noted was her position last year, as well.
"On this day, rather than expand outside, I think we should create an environment conducive to all families who come to enjoy the parade," she said.
Whatever the situation or explanation, Neil Durnin, who joined Knoll at the Tuesday Council meeting, disagreed with the approval by council members Armington, Raline Smith-Reid and Alison Deeb (with councilmember Kevin Gsell recusing himself from the vote), and noted the applications this year were "the height of hypocrisy.
"We're just asking for a level playing field," he said. "It's a little interesting ... after being so vehemently opposed. That's a little strange."