Are archaic liquor laws holding Harlem back?

October 18, 2012 08:30AM

Long-time residents of the Lower East Side may feel they are plagued with too many bars, but in Harlem tough liquor laws may be holding the neighborhood back, according to the Wall Street Journal. Zoning in Harlem forbids the issuing full liquor licenses to businesses on the same street and within 200 feet of a house of worship or a school.

But Harlem has an estimated 200 houses of worship, according to a list by the city’s Department of Finance — thought to be the highest concentration in the city. “It kind of seems like they have something on every corner,” Faith Hope Consolo, chairman of Prudential Douglas Elliman’s retail group, told the Journal.

The only exception to the law is for establishments continuously licensed since before December 5, 1933 — the year the law was passed — or for businesses that were licensed before a school or house of worship was built, according to the State Liquor Authority.

The upshot is that restaurants — thought to attract new tenants and homebuyers — looking to open in the neighborhood often can’t, or at least not if they plan to serve alcohol.

“I have been doing work in Harlem for 13 years, and it’s probably been the number-one issue in terms of constraints for restaurant development in Harlem,” Nikoa Evans-Hendricks, executive director of Harlem Park to Park, said. “It’s made it very difficult to build a real restaurant or night life corridor because it’s pretty much every block, whether it’s a megachurch…or a storefront church.” [WSJ]Christopher Cameron