HARVARD -- The General Store, with its classic New England façade and long local history, may be an iconic fixture on the Town Common, but it has evolved.
The pharmacy it once housed is long gone, as is a camera store that occupied the second floor for years. Now, it's an upscale shop with old-fashioned flair, selling general store staples such as breads, pastries, coffee and sundries and a package store.
With recently added café seating and light fare served, the store also offers folks in town a central gathering spot.
These days, the store is also advertised as an event venue, which led the current manager, Scott Hayward, to seek an alteration in the existing liquor license.
Tuesday night, the selectmen held a public hearing to consider the request but did not make a decision. The hearing was continued to Tuesday, June 18, at 6:30 p.m.
Specifically, Hayward wants to redefine the "controlled space" area cited in the license, which currently includes all three floors of the building and "inhibits use of the space for other purposes," he said.
Instead, he proposes to restrict the controlled space to the basement and first floor only, he said, opening the second and third floors to other uses such as wine-tasting events and to rent the space out for parties, wedding receptions and other gatherings.
When Lyn and Adam Horowitz purchased the property a few years ago, the store had been shuttered for some time and townspeople welcomed its reopening. Keeping the logo as well as the footprint, the new owners extensively renovated the store and later applied for a liquor license to open a package store on site, selling wine and beer.
Having only recently shed "dry town" status, granting liquor licenses was unfamiliar territory for the selectmen then and they tread very cautiously.
Conditions attached to the General Store's original license stipulated that the wine store would be on the second floor, but the board conceded that sales could also be rung up downstairs for customers who could not climb the stairs to the second floor, which is not handicapped accessible.
Beyond the usual caveats about on-site management and in-store servers' ages, there was some concern at the time about unintended underage access to wine and beer sold in the store, which was a popular place for teens to hang out after school. This led to additional conditions such as outdoor lighting on the building and much discussion about ensuring that the wine and beer stock would be upstairs only and that with the exception of disabled customers, all wine sales would take place up there, too.
It's unclear when it migrated downstairs, but Hayward doesn't plan to dismantle the second floor wine shop. Wine will still be displayed on the shelves upstairs, he said, with additional storage in the basement. Customers can browse and select products upstairs if they choose to do so, he said, but alcohol sales will be on the first floor only.
Chairman Marie Sobalvarro asked for clarification. The scenario Hayward described clearly didn't sound like storage to her. Yes, he said in answer to her question, the wine will still be accessible to the general public, as it is now.
But few go up there. "I can count on one hand the number of people who go upstairs to choose and buy wine," he said. "We've learned it's a grab-and-go business."
Still, with the display area on the second floor, Sobalvarro questioned whether the state Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission would approve the license. In her view, the setup Hayward aims to continue would make the second-floor part of the "licensed premises," as it is now.
Hayward, however, argued that the ABCC leaves such fine-line judgments up to the town's discretion. "If that's the (board's) interpretation, I will pursue it further," he said.
Selectman Leo Blair suggested that Town Administrator Tim Bragan look into it. "It might be prudent to ask the ABCC," he said.
The selectmen agreed and continued the hearing to June 18, at which time they should have the state agency's answer and a clearer view of the issue.