AYER — The Gulf gas station and convenience store at 20-30 Park St. was denied permission to transfer a languishing all-liquor license from C.R. Pierce, Inc., which had pitched a liquor store at 30 Main St. The Ayer Board of Selectmen cited several reasons, including concern over competition for the town’s existing liquor stores, and safety worries with combining all-alcohol liquor sales with a gas station.
Two-tenths of a mile away from the Gulf station is Archer’s Mobil gas station and mini mart at 70 Main St. Archer’s was granted a beer and wine license several years ago. A few hundred yards away is Ayer Package Store at 48 Main St., a full-alcohol retail store.
Two-tenths of a mile away is the Vineyard liquor store at 63 Park St. Ayer otherwise has one other fully stocked liquor store — Jack O’Lantern Liquors a mile and a half away at 2 Littleton Road.
Attorney Joseph Devlin spoke on behalf of Santoshi Corp. owner Dashrathbhai Patel, who has owned Pauline’s Variety Store on East Main Street for the past 12 years. Devlin said Patel lives in town with his wife and children and has owned the Gulf station for three years.
“Like every business, he’s looking for additional revenue streams,” said Devlin. The Gulf franchise “puts a lot of demands on him.”
Devlin said Patel was looking to purchase the license from C.R. Pierce and transfer the license to the Gulf station location. Devlin explained that Patel wished to move the liquor license to the Gulf station versus Pauline’s Variety, which is in a more residential area.
While Patel was hopeful the selectmen would agree to the transfer, Devlin told him, “I don’t want to fight that too hard because Ayer’s been good to me,” recalled Devlin. “I’ve never had a client say that to me before.”
“Thank you for doing business in Ayer. It’s appreciated,” said selectman Gary Luca. But Luca said Ayer didn’t need another liquor store.
“Nashua is how far away?” said Luca. “And the margin on beer and wine is small.” Ayer’s proximity to tax-free New Hampshire means it’s “already a struggle for the current full liquor stores in town,” said Luca.
Selectman Pauline Conley had safety concerns over pairing an all-liquor license with a gas station. Conley said she knew of no other gas station like it in the area and didn’t want Ayer to “be the first in the area to issue such a license. I just have grave reservations.”
“Gasoline and alcohol don’t mix,” added selectman Frank Maxant. “It sends an unfortunate message to people.” Maxant said that selling alcohol at the gas station would also be “limiting somewhat jobs for young people” since a clerk selling alcohol products must be at least 18 years old.
“I’m just fundamentally opposed to selling any kind of liquor at a gas station,” echoed selectman Christopher Hillman. “I’m not exactly keen on selling beer and wine at a gas station.”
“I don’t entirely agree that one buys gas and cant’ buy something else at a gas station,” said Selectmen Chairman Jim Fay. “Competition is good.”
But Fay was concerned that existing Ayer liquor stores would be squeezed, saying another license will “cut the pieces more by increasing the competition. That’s not good for those who have a slice of the pie because it’s a small pie… I don’t feel it’s good for the local economy.”
“I’d approve the transfer but not the location,” said Fay. “At nine square miles, we’re not big….You only have to travel three miles for an all-alcohol purchase. I don’t think that’s a bad thing.”
Maxant asked Devlin to throw some advice the selectmen’s way. “Do you, as applicant, have recourse to say our justification in saying no is not valid under the law?”
“I’ve been to 120 different communities,” said Devlin. “It’s what the community feels.”
Though Devlin added, “Competition is not a legitimate reason.”
Devlin said the seller, C.R. Pierce, is “being deprived of his ability to make this sale.” In documents filed with the selectmen, Patel indicated he was going to pay $43,000 to C.R. Pierce, Inc. for the purchase of the liquor license, plus spending another $20,000 to outfit the Gulf store for the liquor sales.
“Beyond that — I’m going to refer to what he said. ‘I don’t want to fight with the town of Ayer,” said Devlin about Patel’s wishes.
Resident Maureen Parlon objected to the license transfer to Patel. Parlon said she’d confronted Patel before, alleging Pauline’s Variety sold cigarettes to her underage daughter “but he continued to sell to her.”
With liquor sales, “What’s going to happen?” asked Parlon. “I have a huge issue with that.”
Of Parlon’s charge, Fay noted, “There’s nothing on record” in terms of any violations.
“He just hasn’t gotten caught,” answered Parlon.
Patel answered, saying he doesn’t sell to minors and has reached out to parents before when their children have come in to buy cigarettes. Patel added that he’s “never had a ticket” for underage tobacco sales.
“I don’t mind if you don’t approve the license,” said Patel. “I understand.”
If the selectmen vote ‘no,’ then “You’re not going to hear from Mr. Patel again,” said Devlin. “We won’t have any further comment.”
The board voted against the license transfer to the Gulf station, as requested.
“Nothing personal,” said Luca to Patel. “Stay in Ayer. Don’t leave.”
Follow Mary Arata at twitter.com/maryearata.