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Local businessman receives $80k loan to open State Street liquor store

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A local businessman and landlord plans to open a liquor store in a former gas station on State Street, making it the only one on the east side of the city.

On Thursday morning, the Watertown Local Development Corp. agreed to give Mark J. Bonner an $80,000 loan to help purchase $75,000 in inventory for State Street Wine & Liquor LLC.

Before the vote, WLDC board members expressed some concerns about the loan, since the economic development agency also plans to give Mr. Bonner’s wife, Vina A., a $150,000 loan to open an indoor children’s play area in a portion of Empsall Plaza.

They also had concerns that Mr. Bonner already has loans with the WLDC, also known as the Watertown Trust, for two local convenience stores, the LeRay Street Dairy Market and the Franklin Street Market. He still owes $59,833 to the Watertown Trust for those two loans.

But Donald W. Rutherford, the Watertown Trust’s CEO, said Mr. Bonner always pays on time.

“We’ve never any issue with them,” he said.

Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham voted against the loan, contending that WLDC money should not pay for a liquor store’s inventory. He said a friend who owns a liquor store slowly expanded his inventory over time without public money, so the loan was not fair.

Mr. Bonner, who could not be reached for comment, is renovating the former gas station at 804 State St., most recently the home of a car detailing business. The liquor store will employ two workers.

He is waiting to obtain a liquor license from the state, Mr. Rutherford said. The project needs only a building permit and not site plan review, city officials said.

Mr. Rutherford said he believes the business will be a success, noting that other local liquor stores are in different sections of the city.

“There’s nothing on that side of town,” he said.

In 2008, Mr. Bonner, who owns several rental properties in Watertown, purchased the vacant gas station from the city for $35,125 through a tax sale certificate via a private sale. Fearing contamination on the former gas station site, the city had wanted to unload the property quickly, said Kenneth A. Mix, the city’s planning and community development coordinator.

Later, the city criticized Mr. Bonner for failing to follow through with some improvements on the property that he had promised to the Planning Board. After some nudging, they were finally completed.

Over the years, the building housed another car detailer, an auto repair shop and a used car lot.

On Thursday, the WLDC board held off approving the $150,000 loan to Mrs. Bonner until she obtains bank financing. She intends to renovate the section of Empsall Plaza that faces the J.B. Wise parking lot and open a children’s indoor play gym there.

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