The New Jersey Senate will consider a new bill that would allow local performing arts theaters the ability to apply for liquor licenses after the New Jersey General Assembly recently unanimously approved the legislation Monday in a 73-0 vote.
If approved, municipalities would be allowed to issue a plenary retail consumption license — also known as a “theater license” — to nonprofit theaters with fewer than 1,000 seats.
The bill, sponsored by Assemblywoman Annette Chaparro, is intended to improve the finances for local community theaters by easing fundraising concerns and putting New Jersey on a level playing field with major cities in nearby states. Here, small local theaters compete with Broadway shows for attendees.
And no, this bill would not apply to movie theaters, so film buffs won’t be able to enjoy booze at box-office blowouts.
“Permitting smaller entertainment venues to serve alcohol during productions would help them compete with larger theaters,” Chaparro said. “Increased attendance at these performances would also likely improve patronage at nearby businesses. This legislation is a great way to promote the arts throughout the state and support the nonprofit organizations that bring these concerts, musicals, and plays to the people of New Jersey.”
Mile Square muscle
Hoboken’s Mile Square Theatre has been advocating for the bill, maintaining that everyone will benefit from the legislation, including theatergoers, local businesses, restaurants, and the theaters themselves.
“We’ve been working with the New Jersey Theatre Alliance and a few member theaters for years on this legislation, and we are thrilled to see that it is moving forward,” said Artistic Director of Mile Square Theatre Chris O’Connor. “This will not only enhance the experience for audiences that attend these smaller nonprofit performance venues, but in drawing more audiences to these venues, it will bring more patrons to restaurants and other businesses that are nearby. The theaters, which operate on narrow margins, will have one more opportunity to add to their earned income. All boats will rise with this legislation.”
If signed into law, nonprofit organizations that regularly host theatrical or musical productions for which admission is charged could apply for a plenary liquor license authorizing them to sell alcohol during their shows if their theater has 50 or more seats.
Under current law, theaters must have at least 1,000 seats to apply for a license.
The bill stipulates that as long as admission is charged for the show and the venue itself is primarily used for live performances it can apply for a plenary license, which must be approved by the Director of the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control and the municipality where it’s located.
The nonprofit theaters would be permitted to sell alcohol during the two hours immediately before performances, during performances, and during intermission.
Theaters with a seating capacity of 1,000 or more would be permitted to sell alcohol for the two hours immediately following performances.
“I want to thank Mile Square Theatre of Hoboken for bringing this issue to my attention and encouraging the New Jersey Legislature to provide a boost to the arts community,” Chaparro said. “Like any business, local theaters need money to keep their doors open, and I hope this legislation provides an additional revenue stream that allows them to worry less about fundraising and focus more on providing great entertainment for New Jersey residents. I also want to thank the New Jersey Restaurant and Hospitality Association for their contributions to this legislation – we want this bill to be a win for everyone.”