Massachusetts Lawmakers Want To Crack Down on Beer Gardens

The state's heavily regulated restaurant industry thinks beer gardens have it too easy


Boston's beloved beer gardens are in jeopardy thanks to a bill introduced by Massachusetts lawmakers earlier this year. The bill, An Act Relative to One Day Alcoholic Beverage Licenses, would curtail (and perhaps derail) the ability of many breweries to operate beer gardens in the state. 

"Pop-up beer gardens have been flourishing in Boston," noted American Craft Beer earlier this year. "But now the restaurant lobby is working with politicians to put the squeeze on them."

Boy, are they. In fact, the licensing bill was written by Bob Luz, the president and CEO of the Massachusetts Restaurant Association.

The restaurant association is particularly opposed to the comparatively low cost of beer garden licenses—which run under $100 per day—and by the ease with which breweries currently may skirt a frivolous cap on the number of such licenses that can be issued to a business: "[B]reweries and others can skirt that provision by simply having different employees apply for the permits," reported this week.

A Boston magazine feature this spring lamented the fact that restaurants are "waging war" on beer gardens in the state and seeking "to regulate [them] into oblivion."

"For the past year, Boston's restaurateurs have been seething with envy as beer-garden mania has rapidly taken hold, and they're now preparing to wage war," the magazine reports. "At the State House, the restaurant industry is backing a proposed limit on one-day licenses for outdoor drinking to 14 a year per company, which would close a loophole that allows permitted beer-garden operators to stay open all summer long."

Beer gardens have quickly reshaped and improved Boston's summer drinking scene. Since debuting in the city in 2017, they've become, says writer Jeff Bernstone, "an indisputable fixture of city life." Last year American Craft Beer dubbed Boston "America's Beer Garden Capital."

According to, the city currently boasts nine beer gardens, with about the same number operating outside the city. This summer has also seen the debut of the first wine garden in the city.

The draw of a beer garden is obvious. Drinking outside is the best thing about both drinking and being outdoors. Beer gardens are fun. A typical pop-up beer garden might run several nights each week, and feature games, music, food trucks, and—of course—beer. They're a great use of underutilized space. Beer gardens typically pop up in a vacant lot or a strip of public park. Many are family friendly. Kids and pets are often welcome. Others have embraced high culture. Tree House Brewing, the top-rated brewery in Massachusetts, is featuring musicians from the famed Berklee College of Music at its beer garden.

Beer gardens aren't just good for drinkers. They're good for Boston itself. The Boston magazine piece notes that they generate revenue for the city's parks department and are "doing wonders for our city's stodgy reputation."

But the stodgy restaurant association says restaurateurs spend hundreds of thousands of dollars for alcohol licenses, and that beer gardens—what with their cheap licenses and low overhead—enjoy an unfair competitive advantage.

Yet the restaurateurs complaining about an uneven playing field don't appear even to be interested in taking the field. After all, restaurants are free to apply for the same one-day beer garden licenses they're moaning about breweries using.

(Well, this is the same Massachusetts Restaurant Association, after all, that's a longtime opponent of lifting the state's ridiculous ban on happy hour drink specials.)

State Sen. Nick Collins, who co-sponsored the bill to kill beer gardens, says he introduced it to "jump-start a conversation about [beer gardens'] long term sustainability."

I'd hope Sen. Collins, a lawmaker, would know the difference between legislation and conversation. I encourage Sen. Collins and his co-sponsor, State Sen. Ed Kennedy, to "jump-start a conversation" with one another about what appears to be the only real obstacle to the "long term sustainability" of beer gardens in Massachusetts: lawmakers.

If there are problems with booze laws in Massachusetts, the state has only its lawmakers (certainly not just Sen. Kennedy or Sen. Collins) to blame. If seasonal liquor licenses sound like a solution, it's one that lawmakers have foreclosed upon. As WGBH reported this spring, "seasonal liquor licenses aren't available in Boston, thanks to a decades-old state law that bans the city from issuing them."

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, very much to his credit, has taken a firm stand against any beer garden crackdown. Walsh also wants more liquor licensees in the city.

In the aforementioned Boston magazine piece, staff writer Spencer Buell closes with a stern warning against cracking down on beer gardens. Instead, he writes, the state should look to reform the alcohol licensing process for restaurants.

He's right. When innovators help expose the inanity and uselessness of a set of regulations, the solution isn't to subject more businesses to the bad rules but to scrap them altogether.

This echoes a suggestion I made in Reason in 2011, when restaurant associations were (more) busily trying to force cities to stifle completion from mobile food trucks.

"Instead of cracking down on the successful food trucks," I wrote, "[cities] should look to those businesses' success as a reason to cut the red tape that engulfs entrepreneurs who want to launch brick-and-mortar restaurants."

If lawmakers really want a conversation starter, they can start right there.

NEXT: How Vietnam Gave Us C-SPAN 

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  1. State Sen. Nick Collins, who co-sponsored the bill to kill beer gardens, says he introduced it to “jump-start a conversation about [beer gardens’] long term sustainability.”

    And Jeffrey Dahmer was just trying to jump-start a conversation about American dietary habits. I’d like to jump-start a conversation about smacking lying dumbasses upside the head with a hatchet.

    1. So beer gardens with axe throwing?

      1. but only if they add pool tables

      2. No dwarf tossing though. That is just out.

    2. I don’t like being glib, but by definition things without long-term sustainability eventually take care of themselves. So, calm it down Mr. Collins.

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  4. But the stodgy restaurant association says restaurateurs spend hundreds of thousands of dollars for alcohol licenses, and that beer gardens—what with their cheap licenses and low overhead—enjoy an unfair competitive advantage.

    You know, there’s a different legislative/regulatory remedy to this they could pursue.

    1. I doubt Trump would have taken off the pressure if Xi hadn’t made some concessions on where they were when negotiations broke down last time. The pressure of the trade war has been far worse on the Chinese economy than the U.S., and I don’t see much political pressure for Trump to make a deal ahead of the election. Trump is still most popular in states that have been hit the hardest by the trade war. Here’s to hoping this will soon be over.

      1. Wasn’t supposed to be a response to FoE.

        If I were responding, it would have something to do with making fun of companies that complain about having to compete with others who have “low overhead”. For goodness sake, finding ways to have a lower overhead than your competitors is what competition is all about. The only “solution” to that problem is socialism–getting rid of the profit motive completely—and that “solution”, like peeing your pants, comes with a whole new set of problems.

      2. Trump’s art of dealmaking is, if anything, predictable. He found a strategy that worked with Mexico, and he’ll ride this strategy out until someone calls his raise.

        First of course, were the tariffs with Mexico that weren’t (he won that hand). Then the attack on Iran that wasn’t. Then the ICE raids that aren’t. Now the Chinese tariffs. It doesn’t take a genius to see what he’s doing with these threats on all fronts. Make a threat, then pull back at the last minute to give your opponent a chance to reconsider.

        As you would say Ken, I hope he’s successful. Not because I share his world view, but because all of these threats, if carried out, are bad for individual liberty.

        The real question is, who will be first to call his raise and not capitulate to his threats?

        1. Contentious negotiations are won by the party with the most leverage. If you can create it out of thin air, that’s great. Like you said, I’m not condoning his strategy–I’ve condemned it all along. I guess the difference between me and the TDS victim is that I recognize there is a strategy. Trump had to impose tariffs in order to create a credible threat. There’s no way the Chinese would capitulate if they thought they were empty threats. The Chinese tested Trump’s resolve when they came back and tried to retrade on what was already agreed to in the deal. Trump stood firm and came back with more tariffs of his own.

          This is classic commercial real estate stuff. This is the way most large commercial real estate deals play out. There’s a Letter of Intent that determines the length of the due diligence, at which point the money put down becomes “hard”, etc. The buyer then brings his consultants in during due diligence and tries to find anything and everything wrong with the property–some reason why the seller should give them a discount. The seller will do everything they can to stand firm on the price, but they buyer always comes back wanting a discount before they’ll agree to close.

          That’s what China was trying to do in the last round. Okay, it’s time to close on the deal, but first we need you to do x, y, and z. Trump was willing to walk away from the deal, and did so, because he thought he had more leverage in this negotiation than they do–and he’s probably right.

          The Chinese giving in on soybean purchases is especially telling. The Chinese hit soybeans because they thought that would hurt Trump’s chances at reelection the most. Because they’re willing to give up on that, it shows that they’ve thrown in the towel on their most important leverage. I’m not sure the Huawei ban ever really mattered to Trump, The leverage Trump created was mostly just about getting China to close on the deal. I wouldn’t be surprised if Trump’s openness to North Korea isn’t another bargaining chip in this negotiation.

          It’s reminiscent of Reagan’s Star Wars bargaining chip with the Soviets. Star Wars was nothing more than a speech and a spending bill, but it scared the shit out of the Russians. And that’s what it was for.

          IF IF IF Trump comes out the other end of this with a better deal for the U.S. than what we had before he took office, I’ll still think he was wrong to risk so much. Betting our economy on a roll of the dice doesn’t suddenly become a smart thing to do just because you win. However, IF IF IF he does come out the other end of this with a something better than what we had before he was elected, it really will be because of his personal acumen. And he’ll deserve credit for that. I’ll be glad if he just goes back to the status quo. He’ll deserve all the blame if we end up with less trade than before.

          1. Saw a few articles from market analysts about this today. Basically there may be a positive bump but this is not the time to break out the champagne.

            The good news is things are not worse for now as feared but that is pretty much it. So not an occasion for high fives all around. There is a lot of uncertainty ahead even if an agreement is reached.

            1. The markets will open up or down on Monday morning regardless of what the analysts say. This isn’t the end, and if China tries to retrade on him again, the whole deal could still blow up. But, like I said, China capitulating on soybeans is a big deal. To be clear, they’re not talking about maybe buying some soybeans in the future. They’re buying them now as an condition set by the Trump team for further negotiations. They wouldn’t have done that if they didn’t expect to go through with the deal at this point in time, and I don’t see any reason to second guess the Chinese. I’m not judging their intentions by their rhetoric. I’m talking about their actions.

              “CHICAGO (Reuters) – The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on Friday reported a large soybean sale to China, an apparent goodwill gesture a day before the first meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping in seven months.

              . . . .

              The USDA said Chinese importers bought 544,000 tonnes of U.S. soybeans for shipment in the 2018/19 marketing year which expires Aug. 31. It was the largest U.S. soybean sale to China since late March, USDA data showed.

              The USDA said in a statement the sale was new and not a change of destination of a previously announced sale.”


              The Chinese may yet try to retrade Trump on the deal, but in regards to that typical commercial real estate deal I outlined above, this when the money “goes hard”.

              The buyer puts $1 million towards the acquisition price in exchange for a 90 day due diligence period, after which, the seller agrees to apply that $1 million to the acquisition price if they close within five business days of the end of the due diligence period. Before the end of the due diligence period, the buyer can walk away from the deal if he finds something he doesn’t like–and he gets his $1 million back. If he doesn’t announce that he’s walking away, the seller gets to keep his $1 million of the buyers fails to close.

              China just “went hard” when they bought those soybeans. If they walk away at this point, they don’t get their money back.

              I don’t care what analysts say. After executing on a major concession like that, they’re probably going to close. Whatever major obstacles they had to closing appear to be details at this point. Hopefully, Trump got everything he asked for, but he may just be throwing in his cards in and folding, too. We’ll have to wait for the details to come out, but I suspect we’ll see an end to this pretty soon.

              1. But what does it mean for the price of Tsingtao beer at the local supermarket? Actually it is not that good. Chinese Corona.

          2. “I’ll still think he was wrong to risk so much.”

            But, is your risk assessment correct?

            Sometimes something looks very risky but is not when you understand the inner workings better. As well, one risk needs to be traded off against other risks – sometimes long term risks trade off against short term risks. For example, continuing to allow another country to fail to crack down on (or even encourage) theft of IP of companies in your country is a long term risk — sure, it won’t blow up next week, but over years and decades is may cause corrosion and result in much worse damage than the worst possible outcome of the taking the short term risk. Tariffs are easy to back away from if they don’t work, repatriating entire industries is nearly impossible in most cases.

            I don’t like Trump but there were two reasons I was nowhere near as concerned about his election as many were. One was SCOTUS (where he has done a pretty good job by delegating since he really doesn’t care about it). The other was that I thought he might understand some of the “bully” world leaders (Xi, Kim Jong-un, and perhaps Putin) better because he’s of their mold in many ways.

            (And, I’m tired of negotiators sitting around tables for years being diplomatic and accomplishing nothing — being willing to do so suggests that both parties are equally matched or that one party is stronger and either doens’t know it or is embarrassed to exercise their strength. If you’ve got the power, use it responsibly against irresponsible or unethical behavior.)

    2. If an alcohol license is “hundreds of thousands” of dollars and a one day license is under a hundred, then my first question is how long does a restaurant liquor license run, and can it be transferred? Based on my knowledge (admittedly spotty) of The Peoples Republic of Boston, I would guess that the license needs to be renewed at regular intervals and is not transferable. In which case the restaurant association has a legitimate beef, though they are being buttheads in dealing with it.

      1. licensing fees (if needed at all, which most aren’t) shouldn’t be a source of revenue, they should only charge enough to cover the cost of the licensing program. it’s supposed to be for public safety (to be able to pull the license from an irresponsible business), not a barrier to entry for the non-politically connected.

        my city wasn’t giving a liquor license to a new Mexican restaurant because the big Mexican restaurant nearby was politically connected, so the owner started giving everyone a free glass of beer with dinner. best enchiladas in town.

      2. Of course, what these restaurants are not saying is that a ‘one day’ license for the whole year costs $36,500 and an alcohol license is *permanent* with its cost broken down over multiple years.

        A license held for 10 years would have to be worth more than $365,000 to be ‘worse’ than a beer garden daily fee over the same time.

        Oh, and that alcohol license is transferable. So you’ll be able to sell it off later, recouping some of your initial investment in it. Potentially even making a profit since governments like to limit the number of new licenses well below market demand, artificially driving their price up.

        The restaurant association has no leg to stand on here.

        1. The thing is, in The Peoples Republic of Boston a $365,000 license for LESS then ten years would not surprise me. I wouldn’t be astonished if it were less, either, but the pinheads in Boston are a poisonous combination of bureaucratic arrogance and pseudo-aristocratic buttinskiism.

          1. The license is a one-time fee. Other than an nominal renewal fee that up-front cost is it. And you can resell it.

            So even if its $500k and you only use it for 5 years – unless the city expands the supply of licenses, it will retain its value. So you’ll use it for a few years, your business tanks, you sell the license for what you bought it for.

            In reality, you’ll probably be able to make a tidy profit on the license sale alone – not including any profit you made from alcohol sales in the interim.

    3. You know, there’s a different legislative/regulatory remedy to this they could pursue.

      Just because you’re in business, doesn’t mean you’re good at business. Taking that other route would open up the business to competition, and then they might actually have to go to work. The status quo is just so much easier.

      1. “open up the businessindustry”.

        I derped.

    4. Someone is evading the truth here, folks. My best guess here is that the liquor licenses are issued by the state very rarely, but are more commonly available in the secondary market for absurdly inflated prices (just like here in Montana where they go for over $250,000 each, depending on location). They have a corrupt system which they (the tavern owners) want to continue. Licenses should be issued to anyone wanting one. The legacy holders could be “bought off” over time with annual license renewal fees.

      1. In MA liquor licenses are issued by the local community, not by the state. State law sets a cap on liquor licenses based on population – Boston automatically gets ~1,000 licenses – but communities can & do apply to the legislature for extra licenses (such “special legislation” for various things is pretty common in MA).

  5. I’m no expert on Massachusetts, but if the beer gardens want the support of the general public, maybe they should promote themselves as something a little more Irish instead.

    1. No, not going to (whiskey garden) go there.

      1. They could serve Guinness. It’s not like they’re going full on German anyway. They’re not serving the beer warm, are they? And if the beer wenches are dressing up like they’re in Riverdance rather than mädchen, is that likely to offend anybody in Massachusetts?

    2. The public is against bomb throwing nowadays.

  6. I guess it’s too hard to fight for your regulations to be reduced…

    1. Bingo, that’s the real problem. They regulations themselves DO create an unfair advantage. But the solution shouldn’t be more regulations. They’ll just make even worse problems.

      1. When you look at the costs – and that *anyone* can apply for a beer garden license – no, the regulations aren’t creating an unfair advantage.

        Its cheaper to get a regular alcohol license than to sell day-by-day and if you can’t manage to find one you can afford you can *still* get the beer garden license.

      2. The whole of the State, and the economic doldrums it has been in for decades (with brief respites) is a textbook example of those ‘worse problems’.

        1. If you mean MA, I just checked – for economic growth over the last 20 years MA is 22 of the 50 states (NC is #21 and VA is #23). 1% higher than the US as a whole. So if your statement is about MA, you have a pretty weird definition of “doldrums”.

    2. Yes, you are correct. Not just hard, but stupid. Why would you fight the regulatory state when it’s just as profitable to use the regulatory state as a weapon against your competitors? It’s a simple strategy of channeling human nature to your own ends rather than trying to change human nature.

      As Adam Smith said, it is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. You’re not going to get very far appealing to the better nature of the bureaucracy because they don’t have one, but you offer the bureaucracy a big juicy target for their regulatory instincts and now you’re on to something.

  7. […] Massachusetts Lawmakers Want To Crack Down on Beer Gardens  Reason […]

  8. Does anyone here like Andrew Yang?

    Andrew Yang’s bold universal basic income proposal would give every American $12,000 a year with no strings attached

    Since we Koch / Reason libertarians support #ImmigrationAboveAll, and $12K / year in free money would make the US a more attractive destination for immigrants, we should seriously consider supporting universal basic income.


    1. it depends — what’s his position on beer gardens and axe throwing?

    2. I saw him on Bloomberg. When he’s talking about a universal basic income, he doesn’t seem to mean it like libertarians mean it–as a substitute for Medicaid, food stamps, rent subsidies, public schooling, etc. And realistically, people who are on those programs are getting a lot more than $12,000 a year in benefits–why would they settle for less?

      His spiel on Bloomberg was about how automation will ultimately destroy work for the unskilled, middle class, and he wants to get proactive about the solution–government paying people for their leisure is our technological destiny, a brave, new world! It’s basically a Malthusian fallacy–again. In his case, it’s actually worse than most. . .

      It’s bad enough to see people push Malthusian solutions to a problem when Malthusian concerns always seem to be proven wrong. It’s even worse when the problem itself isn’t apparent.

      Jobs for low skilled workers are plentiful. Unskilled workers haven’t had it so good in 40 years! Not only is the unemployment rate low, wages are growing faster than the rate of inflation by a healthy margin. This is not only happening in spite of big productivity gains. It’s happening because of big productivity gains.

      His stupid solution would the be the cause of the problem he’s trying to solve. It’s almost like the mental miscalculation of people who imagine that someday the government will become so flush with cash through taxes that it will decide not to spend it. No, the world doesn’t work that way, and I’m not convinced that people become less desirable as employees when their work becomes more productive through the application of automation either.

      Automation may work to make it possible for unskilled workers to be productive industries and roles that are more valuable than they were before.

    3. He doesn’t wear a tie which is to his credit. Hate those things. Haven’t worn one in decades.

  9. I don’t know much about Jimmy Carter’s Presidency — I think even my parents were only in elementary school at the time — but he’s a fantastic ex-President.

    Former President Jimmy Carter suggests that a full investigation into Russian election interference would show that President Trump didn’t win the 2016 election and that Trump is an illegitimate president

    Really alarming stuff. Somebody needs to investigate this. Maybe some kind of special prosecutor with an FBI or other law enforcement background.


    1. by the time the investigation winds down, the American people will have a chance to weigh in on whether Trump should stay in office.

      until the Dems start demanding hearings on the Mueller report’s footnotes and references.

      1. Oh, and

    2. For once I agree with you, OBL: It is really alarming stuff. Carter’s gone from being the best friend of murderous dictators worldwide, to embarrassingly senile babbler. And someone should definitely investigate…putting him in a home.

      1. “Carter’s gone from being the best friend of murderous dictators worldwide”

        At least, unlike Drumpf, Carter has never been Putin’s Puppet.

    3. “I don’t know much about Jimmy Carter’s Presidency“

      Well let’s see.

      John Lennon was killed

      A big volcano erupted in the northwest

      Bunch of people drank poison kool-aid in Guyana

      Some really bad stuff went down in Iran

      The nuclear reactor at three mile island almost blew up

      That pretty much sums it up. Not saying he was responsible for all of that but…

      On the plus side I finally got laid. Also Van Halen.

    4. OpenBordersLiberal-tarian
      June.29.2019 at 10:53 am
      “I don’t know much about Jimmy Carter’s Presidency — I think even my parents were only in elementary school at the time —”

      That might explain a LOT.

  10. Pondering again what is worse: communitarians who promote socialism for people or crony capitalists who promote socialism for business.

  11. I said nothing for the past four or five decades of socialist authoritarian policies laid down in the Commonwealth, but now they’ve gone too far!

  12. As usual, when one group is fettered by chains of regulation that another group is free of, the demand is never ‘remove these chains!’

    Its always ‘put some chains on that other guy’.

    1. I can’t expect the authorities to take the boot off my neck. That’s just not how it works

  13. They’re good for Boston itself. The Boston magazine piece notes that they generate revenue for the city’s parks department and are “doing wonders for our city’s stodgy reputation.”

    Are they though?

    Sure they generate revenue – because a man with a gun is standing there saying ‘give me money to do this thing or I’ll kill you’.

    But if ‘generates revenue for the city’ is the standard for ‘good’, then wouldn’t a license to walk on the sidewalk also be good for the city? What about a license to wear blue jeans?

  14. BAYLEN LINNEKIN is a food lawyer…

    Judge: Mr. Potato Head, you have been charged with 1st degree murder in the killing of your wife, Mrs. Potato Head. How do you plea?
    Baylen Linnekin: Your Honor, my client pleads not guilty due to mental incompetence. He is unable to tell the difference between right and wrong, because his brain is mashed.

    1. “Thank you for your interest in contributing a script to Veggie Tales, Mr. J, but I’m afraid your scenario does not meet our needs at this time.”

  15. Interesting proposal in the New York Times for fighting back in this era of LITERAL CONCENTRATION CAMPS.

    The American Bar Association should signal that anyone who defends the border patrol’s mistreatment of children will not be considered a member in good standing of the legal profession

    Of course conservatives will seize on the fact that even serial killers deserve defense attorneys. But that’s a flawed comparison. What’s happening now in the US is terrifyingly similar to the early stages of genocide. Of course it’s appropriate to discourage lawyers from defending these egregious human rights violations.


    1. Though the government doesn’t have the “right” to a lawyer in the same way as an individual criminal defendant, defending the enforcement of valid laws against a coordinated attack aimed at bringing in more Democratic voters seems legitimate to me.

  16. “[B]reweries and others can skirt that provision by simply having different employees apply for the permits,” reported this week.”

    Imagine! Some dingbat passed a law which doesn’t do what he thought it would do.
    Never happened before, I’m sure.

  17. State Sen. Nick Collins, who co-sponsored the bill to kill beer gardens, says he introduced it to “jump-start a conversation about [beer gardens’] long term sustainability“

    Yeah we really need to talk about the long term sustainability of a bunch of people hanging out in the park drinking beer and eating together.

    What is wrong with you people???

  18. How quaint. Lawmakers did the same thing back when beer gardens were called ice houses. That was 1907, shortly before the Panic of 1907. Then there was the Five and Ten law signed March 2, 1929, with chain gang prison terms and $10,000 gold dollar fine. Two weeks later there was a market crash, and an even larger one in October. Darndest coincidences.

    1. Did you also wear onions on your belt back then grandpa?

  19. You know who else suffered a crackdown because of what he did in a beer-related establishment?

  20. So I went to one of those beer garden things in Boston last year. Bunch of picnic tables and benches in a giant room. Not at all like the west coast beer gardens I’m used to. Okay, we have those tables and benches in California too, but they’re outside and not indoors in a giant indoor hall.

    Not criticizing or anything, but I would rather have the pub atmosphere when I go to a pub. Must be a New Englander thing.

    1. Okay, the article sort of implies that these are outdoors too, but the photo on top looks suspiciously indoors.

  21. […] Massachusetts’s heavily regulated restaurant industry thinks beer gardens have it too easy. And Reason is reporting that “Boston’s beloved beer gardens are in jeopardy thanks to a bill introduced by […]

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