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Liquor law's role in postgame riots is hotly debated

Mayor Thomas M. Menino has blamed newly permitted Sunday liquor sales for helping to fuel post-Super Bowl riots in student areas, saying that young people were "able to run to the store when they ran out of beverage and stock up."

But several of the stores nearest to Northeastern University shut down within a half hour of the game's kickoff Sunday night, and managers accused the mayor of trying to shift blame to their stores and the new liquor law for the evening's chaos. They also pointed out that students rioted after the Patriots 2002 Super Bowl victory, when Sunday liquor stores were not allowed.

The manager of one popular liquor store, Huntington Wine & Spirits on Huntington Avenue near Northeastern, said his store closed early Sunday to avoid a drunken rush.

Sunday's riots "were a terrible thing, and they shouldn't have happened," said manager Steven Rubin, whose store has refused to sell beer kegs for 10 years, despite the store's proximity to major college markets.

When asked if he thought Sunday liquor sales contributed to the riots, Rubin said no.

"Absolutely not," he added, "and I say that only because of what happened two years ago. Two years ago liquor stores weren't open, and we had the same problem."

Rubin and others in the area said the only liquor that was sold late Sunday night near the Northeastern neighborhood was from the Shaw's supermarket near the Prudential Center and Choice Mart on Massachusetts Avenue, across from the First Church of Christ, Scientist. Six other stores near campus were shuttered by 7 p.m.

Told yesterday that many stores had closed early, Menino stood by his previous statement.

"You can't tell me that these kids weren't drinking," he said. "What happens is they have their parties on Saturday night, and they run out, wake up on Sunday, and buy more liquor. There's no question about it."

The mayor had said Monday that university officials must take more responsibility for the actions of their students. He also said that the Sunday sale of liquor, which began last year, made it easier for students to buy more alcohol.

Menino, through a spokesman, said he had long opposed the legalization of Sunday liquor sales. However, the mayor did not testify on the bill when legislators were considering it. Asked yesterday to provide details about Menino's position, spokesman Seth Gitell initially said he would provide copies of correspondence between Menino and a group that lobbied lawmakers on the issue. However, Gitell said late yesterday that he could not provide the letters.

For several hours Sunday night, young people overturned cars and lit small fires as thousands swarmed in Boston streets, especially around the campuses of Northeastern and Boston universities. Near Northeastern, some people overturned about a half-dozen cars near student housing before an SUV ran into the crowd and struck several people, killing James Grabowski, 21, of West Newbury, and injuring three others.

The liquor store merchants stressed that Sunday liquor sales were illegal in 2002 after the Patriots Super Bowl victory. That year, crowds had to be dispersed at the corner of Harvard and Brighton avenues in Allston by police in riot gear, as some people stomped atop cars, climbed lightpoles, and lit bonfires, actions similar to this week's events at the same intersection, where authorities used water hoses to control the crowd.

Daniel F. Pokaski, Boston Licensing Board chairman, said the role of liquor sales Sunday has been overstated. "I don't think it [Sunday liquor sales] was an overriding factor," he said. "I think the overriding factor was college kids getting out of control."

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