City of Methuen refunds $130,000 in alcohol license fees to restaurants

METHUEN, Mass. — The City of Methuen refunded nearly $130,000 in alcohol license fees to restaurants in an effort to help local eateries struggling during the pandemic.

Mayor Neil Perry told Boston 25 News city leaders had been brainstorming ways to help out the local food service industry when a city councilor mentioned another city had decided to return alcohol license fees.

The city decided to use some of its federal CARES Act funding to refund all common victualler and alcoholic beverage license fees for the year of 2020.

“We’re trying to do everything we can to keep the community whole. These small businesses, they’re vital to us,” Perry said Tuesday. “They’re the lifeblood of our community…they help us in so many different ways. They support youth sports, they support our community with contributions.”

John Vargas, owner of Bada Bing! Pizza, a Hampshire Street restaurant and bar, called Mayor Perry to thank him after opening his check for $2,575.

“To open up the mail today and see it, it was just very refreshing, and it helps,” Vargas said. “There’s been a lot of tough times we’ve been going through. And just to get that and open it, it made me happy. And I hope it helped other people as much as it’s going to help me.”

Vargas said refunding alcohol license fees only made sense.

“I didn’t get to use my license March, April, May, June - four months,” Vargas said. “I got my renewal, and I’m looking at it. I’m saying to myself, ‘Is this really right? That I need to pay one year when I was out of business for four months, and also I’ve been restricted with patrons in my business?’ I have to basically tell them to go home at 10 o’clock.”

For Perry, providing support for hurting restaurants is especially important in Methuen, because a short ride to New Hampshire offers other food options with fewer COVID-19 restrictions.

“It’s a difficult time. It’s been very rough, especially for business owners like this guy [Vargas],” Perry said. “But this guy is the salt of the earth, and so are other business owners in the city. And we want them to stay here, and we need them.”

Vargas said his take-out business is doing well, but restrictions on dining room and bar capacity and hours have been difficult. He believes the city of Methuen is taking care of its own, and he hopes other communities do the same.

“I think a lot of the cities that haven’t stepped up to the plate, they need to step up,” Vargas said. “They need to help the small businesses, they need to help pay one month of rent by returning a license fee.”

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