For the second straight year, some Maryland legislators want to introduce new laws allowing the sale of beer and wine in grocery stores. In Annapolis, the debate rages on between local owners and bigger grocery lobbyists.
On one side, grocery store chains claim that alcohol sales will bolster already razor-thin margins, while also providing the market some much-needed price relief. On the other side, mom-and-pop liquor store owners say that the increased competition would put them out of business.
Other states have experienced these same growing pains as they move away from old laws that predate America’s many great economic advances and commercial revolutions. Typically, the grocery stores (and free market) comes out victorious, but it’s always a fight to the bitter end.
“It’s a terrible idea,” Wells Liquors owner and general manager JoAnn Hyatt said. “They’ll be a lot of stores put out of business from this I believe. This is an old law in Maryland, but sometimes, old laws aren’t necessarily bad laws for the state. We should leave some things alone.
“Do we really want to hurt all these businesses that I’ve been paying taxes, employing people for so many years? Do we really want to do that?” Hyatt asked rhetorically.
Hyatt said that a lot of liquor stores purposefully take up operations right next to grocery stores in order to ease consumer needs and drive organic traffic. Therefore, a change to the law would bring the competition directly to their doorstep, quite literally.
Grocery stores believe selling beer and wine will benefit customers the most
Conversely, retail advocates say the increased options give shoppers more flexibility, as well as create jobs.
“We do think there’s growing support but we’re just going to have to wait and see what happens,” Maryland Retailers Association legislative and membership associate Sarah Price said. Her association also said the new law would help community grocery stores stay afloat.
“Grocery stores operate at some of the lowest profit margins in the retail industry at about 1 percent to 3 percent profit margin, so every little bit helps with operating costs,” Price said.
Senate Bill 603 will likely go to a second reader soon. If the bill passes, it would be put on the next ballot as a referendum to let voters ultimately decide.
Wegmans grocery store brand issued a statement of support for the bill.
“We are in support of this legislation which allows grocery stores in Maryland to sell beer and wine to customers. We are always looking for ways to make the shopping experience and meal planning easier and more enjoyable for our customers. That includes shopping for wine and beer to pair with the food they are buying. We’ve had great success in other states where we are able to sell beer and wine in our stores.”