For years, Cherry Hill has allowed only stand-alone liquor stores. But township officials, who have been preparing for the rare event of auctioning a new liquor license, said they decided to lift the ban to ensure Cherry Hill can compete with communities that don't have similar restrictions.
Brooks and New Jersey Liquor Store Alliance president Paul Santelle, who said they met with Mayor Chuck Cahn on Friday, believe township officials are trying to give a competitive edge to ShopRite, which has two Cherry Hill stores.
In a statement, Santelle said Cahn "is willing to step on the backs of the small business owners that own all eight of the township's current liquor licenses in order to stack the deck in favor of the ShopRite."
Township spokeswoman Bridget Palmer said Santelle's claims were "patently false."
"This was absolutely not done to target any one specific retailer, by any stretch," she said. ShopRite officials did not return a message seeking comment.
Cahn - a former businessman - doesn't believe the new rules will hurt small business owners, Palmer said.
"We think there's room for everyone," she said.
The revised ordinance allows liquor to be sold in any store that is at least 15,000 square feet if sales are confined to a separate area and purchases are at designated cash registers - conditions added to the ordinance after review by the township.
Any retailer, grocery or otherwise, that possesses a liquor license can sell liquor after meeting those conditions.
Santelle said the square-footage requirement discriminates against convenience stores that would be too small to meet the space requirements of the ordinance.
Palmer said township officials "have every confidence that what we've adopted is legal."
The liquor-license auction is to take place March 26 through sealed bids, a process the township hopes will lead to higher bids.
Township officials have said the minimum bid is $425,000.
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