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POLL: Should Maryland Allow Alcohol Sales in Grocery Stores?

The proposed liquor store in Wegmans has sparked the debate.

 

The inside the new Columbia Wegmans has reignited the debate on whether wine, beer and liquor should be sold in Maryland grocery and convenience stores.

In an expansive article on Saturday, the Baltimore Sun examined how multiple grocery stores are trying to find ways around rules that generally ban chain grocery stores from selling wine, beer and liquor. (There are some exceptions, such as an Eastern Shore Giant location that has a license that has been grandfathered.)

Adam Borden, the president of Marylanders for Better Beer & Wine Laws, said the bans are antiquated.

“Our culture has evolved,” said Borden. “It used to be one where temperance and orderly tax collections were our most paramount concerns. Today, consumers are bridling with restrictions that were in place decades ago because they stifle greater selection and better pricing.”

In order to be within liquor license rules, the proposed liquor store for Wegmans would be 10 percent owned and managed on a day-to-day basis by Ralph Michael Smith, a lawyer who lives in Ellicott City.

IAD LLC would own the other 90 percent of the store. IAD is a Delaware holding company owned by Christopher O’Donnell, the husband of Colleen Wegman, the president of Wegmans. Although O’Donnell is connected to Wegmans through his wife, he is technically independent from the chain grocery store.

In the Sun article, Smith said that O’Donnell has a dozen or so other start-up ventures that he runs independently. He said nobody in Wegmans owns anything in those ventures and “I guess (people) aren’t used to couples having two high-powered careers,” according to the Sun.

At the liquor board hearing on May 1, local about Smith being a front for Wegmans.

Amran Pasha, who owns a gas station in Columbia, complained that if Smith gets a license, then other large retailers would emulate the process to get their own stores.

“They’re not allowed to have a liquor store, so they’ve figured out a way to do it,” said Pasha. “The next thing we have is Giant doing the same thing… that means the end of small business in Columbia.” 

At the hearing, only one Howard County resident came out in support of the proposal, Judy George of Laurel.

She said, “With the antiquated laws in Maryland, it’s really hard to find great wines and beers.”

She said she often goes to Corridor in Anne Arundel County to find particular wines she’s looking for, but would prefer to spend her money in Howard County. 

Eric Stein, owner of Decanter Fine Wines and Spirits in Hickory Ridge, said after the hearing, "The average person doesn't care that much about alcohol sales. But the people involved in the industry want others to follow the rules... If the public wants to change the rules, there should be an outcry to do so."

Editor's Note: The original story said Corridor was located in Prince George's County, in fact, it's in Anne Arundel County. The story has been corrected, thank you commenters.

What do you think? Should Maryland allow beer, wine and liquor sales at chain grocery stores?

Amarjit Singh October 21, 2012 at 03:38 PM
My name is Singh,if you notice in Maryland most of 60% liquor and bar store run by Asian ppl or us,i am in business in last 10 years,i believe if all grocery store sell beer wine or liquor is good for our business. Cuz they make 40% or more in the business and we are in big competition and we not make 20% or less in this business. So i think Maryland state give license big chane,like walmart,Marsh,or big grocery store,so basically is one stop shoping. Then i hope we make a good business and work for a good margin of profits, ...............Amarjit Singh.
Amarjit Singh October 21, 2012 at 03:44 PM
I think state of Maryland give liquor license to all big Chan grocery store,so is one stop shopping,ppl go to grocery and they buy beer or wine whatever they need,they don't need sciond stop and park go to buy liquor or beer, All other state like,New york,la,nj,va,or so many other state sell liquor or beer in 7/11, or any other small store then why in Maryland,we can't,
cville city October 21, 2012 at 04:16 PM
Singh, With the wholesaler quantity discounts, liquor stores can either buy the largest quantity deal they can and pass those savings on to customers at steep discounts and volume sales, or have a higher margin with slower sales. Ideally, each individual grocery store would get liquor trucks sent directly from the wholesalers to the stores, just as they do for all liquor stores now, however, I would be willing to bet that as soon as grocery stores can sell booze, they will petition to have wholesalers ship directly to grocery store warehouses who then self distribute to their own stores. Then the quantity discounts get larger and the grocery stores will buy, for instance, this months 300 case QD on Pernod ricard products (absolut, kahlua, beefeater, jameson, malibu). That's about 50 grand in a few products. Less than 40 liquor stores in the state can afford to spend that, but they win big when they sell those products for 3-15 dollars cheaper than the smaller competition. Grocery stores will be a position to be discounters of beer, wine and spirits, but likely they will buy so much at once, make their margins and will have killer profits. Item A. costs Giant $5 when they buy 500 cases. They sell it for $7. The same item at at 50 case deal costs the independent liquor store $6 and they sell it for $9 dollars. Giant has a 40% margin, but sells 500 cases in a month for a $12,000 profit. Mr. independent liquor store makes $1800 @ 50% margin over 2 months.
cville city October 21, 2012 at 04:32 PM
The positives to grocery stores selling booze? Volume value brands will be less expensive for the consumer who wants cheap booze cheap. Most existing grocery stores won't have the dedicated size and closed off space Wegman's provided and selection and service will be limited. Then the Sunday sales prohibition in certain counties will have to be evaluated as well as age restrictions that are in place that prohibit individuals under 21 from selling alcohol (different counties, different rules) at grocery store cash registers. A lot would have to change to allow grocery store sales.
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