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Let’s be perfectly clear about the consequence if Urban Grape is successful in its quest to get the city to reject a liquor license for Shaw’s: a subsidy from some wine and beer drinkers to Urban Grape and its patrons.

A liquor license to Shaw’s promises some combination of lower prices, better selection, or greater convenience. Denying Shaw’s a license will mean that customers who would have enjoyed those benefits will have to pay more, have a worse selection, enjoy less convenience, or some combination thereof so that Urban Grape can maintain its current level of business and Urban Grape fans can enjoy those special benefits that matter to them, but not to the market. That’s money, time, or other value denied one group of people for the benefit of another group. In other words, a subsidy or transfer.

I get the appeal of Urban Grape. Our family buys all its wine (consumed at a rate of about a bottle a week) from the most precious of precious wine stores: Vino di vino.But, I don’t think that the city should be exacting a subsidy from other wine buyers to prop up Vino di vino. If there’s not a market for its unique business proposition, it should fold. We’ll make do.

It may be that others think that Vino di vino and Urban Grape and other local, independent merchants — Newtonville Books, New England Mobile Book Fair, &c. — are so important to the fabric of our town that we should subsidize them. If so, make that argument. And, then let’s subsidize them, with fixed transfers that are direct and transparent, not with indirect regulatory nonsense. Otherwise, the city should stay out of the wine business and let the market do its thing.







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