There’s a battle brewing in Tallahassee, and the outcome could mean “bottom’s up” for small businesses across the state and create an unnecessary increase in alcohol consumption, particularly among minors.
A legislative proposal that would allow Floridians to mix hard liquor and groceries in their shopping carts — something that has been prohibited for more than eight decades — won its first committee approval in the Florida Senate late last month.
Currently, state law restricts liquor sales to liquor stores (hence the name). If the proposal becomes law, it will open up the sale of vodka, rum, gin, whiskey and other spirits to supermarkets and “big-box” stores, such as Walmart and Target. The proposal is intended by its sponsor, State Sen. Anitere Flores (R-Miami), to give shoppers more convenience — allowing hard spirits to be sold alongside the traditional grocery store options of beer, wine, non-alcoholic beverages and, of course, food. It would also allow liquor stores to expand grocery options.
Justifiably, liquor store owners (both chains and independent businesses) are concerned about the impact such a measure would have on their operations. Many a local proprietor — whether a bookstore, restaurant or convenience shop — have been impacted by the large chains, and there are a number of empty storefronts in the western communities due to local businesses failing under such relentless competition from huge, transnational retailers. Even independent businesses in large shopping areas are not immune from such pressure.
Along with killing jobs, the measure would impact state income from liquor stores. Legislative staffers estimate that the proposal would notably reduce the number of alcohol licenses issued by the state, as well as reduce state revenues by around $750,000. A small percentage of the state’s annual budget, but still a reduction.
This change is not simple, nor is it harmless. Containers of hard alcohol usually carry many times the alcohol content as beer and wine, and is often in more compact packaging, leading to potential shoplifting problems among minors when removed from the extra levels of security available at stand-alone liquor stores. Those under age cannot frequent liquor stores — the same cannot be said of supermarkets or big-box chains. Furthermore, the change will require a relaxation of rules when it comes to the age of those who can work at establishments selling liquor. That alone should be a red flag.
Ironically, the small business operators have several very big friends when it comes to opposition at the state level. Florida’s largest grocery chain, Publix Super Markets, has joined the independent liquor stores in opposition to the legislation. For Publix, it would mean remodeling many of their stores, along with bucking the chain’s family-friendly image to make room for liquor. In addition, ABC Fine Wine & Spirits — a family-owned alcohol retailer with more than 130 stores across Florida — opposes the bill.
So do we at the Town-Crier. This proposal would, we believe, give big-box operators an unfair competitive advantage over independent liquor store owners, would deteriorate the competitive balance that currently exists and create unnecessary safety hazards. It should be pointed out that large retailers and grocers who wish to sell alcohol already can do so, but need to add the security features of a stand-alone entrance and employees of the proper age. Publix runs liquor stores adjacent to its supermarket locations in both The Acreage and in the store that just opened in Loxahatchee Groves. Costco does the same, giving its customers convenience, safety and obeying current state law.
The prohibition of liquor sold in groceries goes back to the days of Prohibition, and we see no reason to change an existing state law that serves a public purpose and works well.