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Add Boston To The List Of Places Restricting Grocery Sales By Restaurants.

We covered the City of Los Angeles barring restaurants from selling groceries earlier.

You can now add Boston to the list of governmental overreach.

When Irene Li started selling select grocery items at Mei Mei, the Boston restaurant she co-founded, she assumed she was providing a public service.

“When I drive to work every day, I pass by a Trader Joe’s that almost every single time I’ve gone by has at least 20 people standing in line outside,” Li says, noting the health implications of shopping in crowded stores amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

Boston bureaucrats disagreed. An inspector with the Health Division of Boston Inspectional Services on Monday ordered Li to immediately desist, because she lacks the proper license to sell groceries.

“We were essentially just told that we don’t have the correct permit,” says Li. “So none of the sales are permitted.”

City officials did not provide her—or any other Boston restaurateurs—a way forward for obtaining the proper permissions.

“Food services and food retail are two different licenses that we issue,” Lisa Timberlake, a spokesperson for Boston Inspectional Services, tells Reason. “Restaurants have food service licenses, which require submission of new plans and procedures if the business is going to deviate from the original plans. It’s not as simple as lifting the zoning restrictions on takeout that we’ve done. It’s more complicated than that.”

Is it?

Over the course of the same conversation, Timberlake pivoted from the city’s original justification for ordering Li to stop selling groceries (lack of the proper permit) and laid the responsibility on grocery packaging regulations.

“The City of Boston as well as businesses, we’re required to comply with state laws regarding the change in plans, they must adhere to the federal laws regarding packaging of raw animal products or what have you, so the authority to lift or soften any regulations would require compliance with the state and federal laws,” Timberlake says. “That’s above us.”

But that’s not true, according to Nick Zaiac, a resident fellow in transportation and infrastructure at the R Street Institute, a Washington-based think tank.

“Primarily, this is a part of local zoning code,” Zaiac says. Restaurants selling groceries “is certainly not something that is barred by the state. [The city’s] hands are not tied.”

In that Boston, like many cities, have closed their licensing departments, the people of the City are being denied a service which arguably is a health benefit in these times. There is no way for the restaurant to get the required license under the City and pay for the ability to 1) feed people, 2) keep a business afloat and 3) have employees making money.

After all, fewer people will go to restaurant than a Trader Joes or other grocery chain. Fewer people means less chance of the virus spreading, and more specifically, spreading within the grocery store. We can add the whole social distancing aspect to this as well, being that fewer people in a store means more room to spread out and observe distances between people.

We have seen cities across the country suspend licensing and permitting requirements. Why not here?

Why not help keep the people of Boston – or any city – safer?

We are struck by the fact that governments and states are shutting down “non-essential” businesses.

We would argue that if there is a non-essential “business,” it is that of departments in governments that are run by petty bureaucrats.



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  1. […] example, we have written about cities who told restaurants they could not sell groceries to help lower crowds in grocery stores, the help protect their […]

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