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Chains renew effort to sell beer, wine in supermarkets, stores

Chains renew effort to sell beer, wine in supermarkets, stores

By Colleen Quinn / State House News Service  |   Tuesday, May 10, 2011  |  http://www.bostonherald.com  |  Local Politics

Grocery store owners are planning another push to make it easier for them to sell beer and wine in stores.

Under current law, grocery store owners can only sell beer and wine once they receive an alcohol permit from their local communities, but they are not allowed to hold more than three permits in the state – making it difficult for chain grocery stores to sell alcohol.

Lawmakers will hear testimony to change that restriction Tuesday during a Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure hearing. A bill (S 1851) filed by Sen. Michael Rodrigues (D-Westport) would allow stores to hold up to 20 licenses in the state, but not more than one in any city or town.

Grocery store owners say they need the licenses to boost store sales, especially in smaller stores trying to compete with large chains, according to Jon Hurst, president of the Massachusetts’ Retailers Association.

The package store industry, which could face more competition under the bill, has battled against changes in the past. In 2008, grocery stores took the idea to voters in a ballot referendum that failed.

Massachusetts has some of the toughest laws in the nation surrounding alcohol sales that date back to Prohibition, Hurst said.

“I understand the position of the package stores. They don’t want to see alcohol in grocery stores,” he said. “They want to keep what is essentially a monopoly.”

But the Retailers’ Association wants to see the law loosened up, and called it a “common sense expansion,” Hurst said. Alcohol licenses are overseen by the state’s Alcohol Beverage Control Commission, which is under the oversight of state Treasurer Steven Grossman. Under the law, no one person or entity can have more than three “off-premise” licenses – meaning the alcohol is not consumed where it is sold, according to the Treasurer’s office.

“It would be a great thing for consumers,” Hurst said. “It brings people into your store, and creates impulse buys. If you are getting steaks for the night, then you pick up a bottle of wine as an impulse. It is a sales driver.”

More than a third of all retail purchases are impulse buys, according to Hurst.

Committee co-chairman Rep. Theodore Speliotis said that after the ballot initiative failed, other bills have come up asking lawmakers to increase the number of permits allowed. Speliotis said he has been reluctant to make any changes because “if the public voted no, you have to respect that.”

Speliotis (D-Danvers) said he expects his committee to look at the issue very seriously this week, He said he worries about the effect on the small grocery store owners and independently-owned package stores if more than three alcohol permits are allowed for any one chain. The large chains, if they sold alcohol, could put their smaller counterparts out of business, he said. In his district, a small grocery store, McKinnon’s Market, recently received a license from Danvers town officials to sell beer and wine.

“We have a vibrant and extensive network of small, independently owned package stores that could be potentially hurt by having every major supermarket now sell alcohol,” Speliotis said. “The bottom line is you want to make it as fair as possible to the consumers without destroying any one industry.”

The bill’s other House supporters include Reps. Steven Walsh (D-Lynn), John Rogers (D-Norwood), Paul McMurtry (D-Dedham), Sean Garballey (D-Arlington) and Lowell Democrats Kevin Murphy and David Nangle.

Article URL: http://www.bostonherald.com/news/politics/view.bg?articleid=1336903

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