ESE opposes liquor license for Big E vendor
| By Carley Dangona
WEST SPRINGFIELD – The Eastern States Exposition (ESE) inimically opposed a liquor license application from the Long Trail Brewing Company to sell beer in the Vermont Building during the 2014 Big E fair.
The License Commission postponed its decision whether to award Long Trail Brewing Company a liquor license, pending further clarification on the issue of liability.
During the July 15 meeting, representatives from Long Trail explained they pursued the temporary wine and malt license separately because they were led to believe the ESE was not interested in renewing its agreement with Otter Creek Brewing.
For the past 10 years, Long Trail has sold its products under the previous agreement where Otter Creek was allowed to sell Vermont-made beers and ales.
John Weiss, vice chair of the License Commission, asked Long Trail why it applied for the license separately, rather than through the ESE.
Alison Kosakowski, Marketing and Promotions administrator for the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, said, “We thought we had no other choice. We thought that the ESE was no longer interested in doing a license with Long Trail.”
The main issue the commission and the ESE had is the question of which entity would be liable if there was an alcohol-related incident. When a vendor applies under the ESE’s name, the ESE is responsible for monitoring the sales and intake and coordinating with the Police Department to ensure incidents are kept to a minimum. If the case of a lawsuit the ESE would be held liable, according to Stephen Buoniconti, the attorney representing the ESE.
“In the history of the Big E, all [liquor] licenses have fallen under the umbrella of the ESE,” Buoniconti said. “There’s a simple reason for that: control.”
He charged that Long Trail “can’t be sued or sue in the state of Massachusetts” because they are an “unregistered, out-of-state, for-profit corporation.”
Buoniconti also said, “This is opening Pandora’s box. It’s bad public policy.”
He believed other states that participate in the fair would be inclined to apply independently if Long Trail was granted the license, creating potential issues for the ESE in controlling the sale and consumption of alcohol on its grounds.
Police Chief Ronald Campurciani told the commission that alcohol-related incidents tend to occur around closing time of the fair, on Saturdays at 8:30 p.m. and Sunday nights. He stated that there have not been any major issues within the Vermont Building in the past 10 years during the Otter Creek agreement.
Dennis Powers, chair of the License Commission, questioned why the ESE was concerned about potential issues when there hasn’t been any within the past decade.
Buoniconti responded by calling the license a “reputational risk” the ESE is not willing to take.
“It’s a major slippery slope. We are vehemently opposed,” Buoniconti said.
Gregory Chiecko, ESE director of Sales, told the commission that the number of alcohol licenses for the Big E was “frozen” to 29 five years ago. He said the ESE is interested in reducing that amount slightly over the next few years.
Powers asked West Springfield Town Attorney William Reichelt to research whether Long Trail would indeed have “immunity from sue” if granted the license. The commission approved the deferment of the public hearing until its next meeting on Aug. 5 at 4:30 p.m. in the Municipal Office Building, 26 Central St.