photo:  Bianco Rosso/Facebook

Wilton restaurants are required to stop serving liquor at 11 p.m.–but now comes word that the Economic Development Commission (EDC) is weighing the possibility of asking town officials to extend the hours for restaurants to serve liquor. The early cutoff is something that’s been said to hamper restaurant business in the past, and the chance of increasing economic opportunity in Wilton is part of what’s behind the new interest.

Vivian Lee-Shiue, chair of the EDC, says the issue started percolating recently, thanks to both consumers who have expressed a desire to be able to stay out a little later as well as business owners.

“There have been conversations, and it started anecdotally, that people started saying–even through our surveys–they’d be interested in more of a downtown environment, of a ‘nightlife,’” she says, adding that in reaching out to restaurant owners the EDC has been told such a change would be “definitely a plus.”

Lee-Shiue quoted one Wilton business owner who made his case that it would improve what he could earn.

“One of the restaurants came forward to someone on the Board of Selectmen, saying, ‘The way you have it structured today I could make a lot more business during Monday Night Football, because that goes sometimes until midnight.’ Right now they have to shut down at 11 p.m. so in that season it’s a downside for us,” Lee-Shiue explained.

She recognizes such a change might be attractive to new restaurant businesses considering Wilton as a location.

“It gives them a little more flexibility,” she says.

What’s more is that neighboring towns don’t have similar restrictions in place. Lee-Shiue says the EDC has consulted Wilton Police Chief Robert Crosby.

“His response was, ‘There’s nothing in here that we can foresee is a problem that we can’t handle. We’d certainly have the capacity.’”

The EDC is looking into why the time constraint was created in the first place, and what it would take to change it.

Formerly a dry town prohibiting the sale of any alcohol, Wilton voted to turn “damp” and allow restaurants to sell  liquor in 1992 with some restrictions on the hours restaurants can sell and serve alcohol. Those restrictions are spelled out in the Town Charter [Sec. 8-8 A]:

The Town of Wilton shall allow the sale of alcoholic liquor in all establishments operating under restaurant permits only between the hours of 11 a.m. and 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday; between the hours of 11 a.m. and 12 midnight on Friday and Saturday; between the hours of 11 a.m. and 1 a.m. on New Year’s Eve; and between the hours of 12 noon and 11 p.m. on Sunday. 

Even though the State of CT General Statutes may allow for longer liquor sale hours (9 a.m.–1 a.m. Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m.-2 a.m. Friday and Saturday, and 11 a.m.-1 a.m. on Sundays), Wilton’s Charter supersedes that.

Lee-Shiue said the EDC is researching with Town Counsel what it will require to extend those hours of liquor service–whether the question needs to be put to a town vote. “It’s nothing really new that we’re adding so we don’t think we need to go to town vote. But we’re trying to confirm that this is the case.”

What the EDC is hoping for is to be able to simply make a proposal to the Board of Selectmen, and let the BoS members decide.

“They could potentially come back and say, ‘We know you want to remove [Wilton’s restrictions] altogether. We don’t want to go that far.’ To go from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. on weekdays is a pretty big jump. They might say, ‘We don’t want to go quite that far yet, and do 12 midnight instead.’ We’ll propose what we think we want and they can take it from there,” Lee-Shiue says.

As for how quickly that may happen depends on how quickly the EDC can gather statements from local restaurants and other supporting material, and then get on the BoS agenda. That’s if Town Counsel says they can proceed without taking the question to the town for a vote.

Of course Lee-Shiue knows that there may be residents who object to the idea of extending the hours, and she says anyone with any feedback should feel free to let town officials know.

Either way, she’s hopeful that the question will be settled before the end of FY’17, if not sooner. “I don’t want to leave it lingering. I want to be able to say one way or the other, ‘The reason we are going with it is this, or the reason we are not going with it is that,’ and then implement it.”

If the hours are eventually changed, current Wilton restaurants would have to refile for a new liquor sale permit and may incur additional refiling fees.

The potential time change would have no bearing on the current ordinances that cover liquor sales and service at country clubs and package stores.