A sign in the window of an empty storefront in the Shoppes along Route 130 says the building is an approved storefront for a Bennigan’s location.
But the popular neighborhood pub won’t be calling Cinnaminson its home any time soon. Nor will any other restaurant that serves alcohol.
The township is out of liquor licenses—for both consumption and sales—so unless an owner wants to sell theirs off, Cinnaminson needs a major population boost to nab another.
“Over the years,” said Deputy Mayor Anthony Minniti, who serves as the director of economic development, “we’ve had Friday’s, Chili’s, Ruby Tuesday, Chickie’s and Pete’s, and PJ Whelihan’s [express an interest in coming to Cinnaminson]. The only reason is we don’t have liquor licenses.”
The sign is in the window of a storefront next to Sleepy's near the Shoppes in Cinnaminson. It says the restaurant—once popular in New Jersey—is making a comeback.
According to the state’s Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC), a municipality may issue one consumption license for every 3,000 of its population and one distribution license for every 7,500 of its population.
With Cinnaminson’s population around 15,000, the five consumption licenses belong to Whistlers Inn, Jug Handle Inn, Hathaway’s, The Merion and Riverton Country Club. The two distribution licenses belong to The Wine Cellar and ShopRite.
However there is a way to get another license—and Minniti has suggested it to his contact with Bennigan’s. It’s called a concessionaire’s permit and if the township owns a property, they can be the license owners.
“We don’t know if it would survive a legal challenge,” Minniti said. “But it’s something that [can be looked into], if they want to do the legal research into it.”
A representative with Tower Hospitality, LLC, a group that owns and operates several dining and lodging properties in southern New Jersey, was not reached by press time.
Because of these state restrictions, Minniti said he’s been fighting for legislation to change some of the controls the ABC has.
“Whenever I’m at economic forums, with Assembly people or senators, I always talk to them about how Cinnaminson would love to take the lead and promote changes that would make it easier for liquor licenses,” Minniti said.
It’s caused the township to be more creative with what they try to bring into Cinnaminson with popular businesses like Sonic Drive-In and Speed Raceway.
“I have tried since the beginning to affect some sort of legislative change,” Minniti said. “It’s very, very frustrating.”
He also said the township has tried to argue that the Merion and the Riverton Country Club don’t really qualify under ABC restrictions because they aren’t open to the general public. But the ABC hasn’t let up its ruling.
“Ultimately, where the rules get bogged down politically, is the value of these licenses are such that it’s an asset,” he said.
If an existing alcohol owner wants to sell their license, that would open some of these chain restaurants that sell alcohol to buy it up.
“Obviously, they are not doing that,” Minniti said.
Licenses cost anywhere from $750,000 to more than $1 million, Minniti said. In Moorestown, mall owners PREIT (Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust) set up two subsidiary companies—Moorestown Beverage I and Moorestown Beverage II—and bought four licenses at $1 million each. State laws restrict an entity to two licenses at a time.
A final option to bring a license to the township is if a hotel opened in Cinnaminson. Townships can issue permits to hotels and get a license associated with it.