Small liquor store owners are protesting a package of reforms to liquor laws announced by Gov. Dannel Malloy last month.
Malloy proposed a number of changes to the state’s liquor laws in January, the most popular of which was a repeal of the state’s Sunday blue laws, which forbid the sale of alcohol on Sundays. But several small liquor store owners in Connecticut said the proposed repeal is a red herring intended to distract the public from the rest of the bill, which contains several provisions — including one that would eliminate current restrictions on distributors providing wholesale discounts to liquor stores — that will harm the interests of small business owners. A public hearing will take place before the state legislature’s General Law Committee today at 11 a.m. in Hartford, and supporters of the reforms will rally at the Capitol an hour before the hearing.
“Malloy isn’t doing this for small businesses,” said Sanjay Patil, a manager at College Wine & Liquor who plans to travel to Hartford today to protest Malloy’s proposals, which he said threaten to drive him out of business. “He is working for the big stores.”
Connecticut is currently one of only two states in the United States that does not allow Sunday liquor sales, and the state’s bars and liquor stores must stop selling alcohol hours before those in neighboring states. New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island residents can all purchase alcohol in liquor or grocery stores after noon on Sundays.
Under Malloy’s proposals, the state would allow liquor sales to extend until 10 p.m. for stores and until 2 a.m. for bars and restaurants. In a Jan. 14 statement, Malloy said the state is losing millions of dollars in liquor sales as residents drive across the borders to obtain alcohol on Sundays or after-hours on other days.
Karl Ronne, owner of the Wine Thief on Crown Street, said he was in favor of Sunday liquor sales.
“I pay rent 365 days a year, but I can’t open on a Sunday,” he said.
But small liquor store owners objected to other provisions in Malloy’s package, including one that would eliminate current restrictions on laws preventing wholesale discounts. Currently, all Connecticut distributors are required to offer the same price to all retailers regardless of whether they purchase in bulk. “Removing these restrictions will not only give retailers more flexibility and lower shelf prices for consumers, it will allow the Department of Consumer Protection to refocus vital resources on enforcing our liquor laws and protecting consumer safety,” Malloy said in the January statement.
Malloy announced a compromise on Monday, setting a minimum price for retailers’ liquor prices, after Bill Fore, president of County Wine and Spirits in New Preston, Conn., protested the disadvantage he said small liquor stores would face if distributors were allowed to provide wholesale discounts.
“[Minimum price requirements] are what allow a small retailer like me to play on a relatively level playing field with big box stores,” Fore said at a press conference Friday.
Malloy’s proposal would establish a new permit system allowing grocery stores with beer-only permits to open liquor stores in the vicinity of their current locations, as long as they have their own separate store space and cashiers, among other requirements. The proposal would also allow one proprietor — whether an individual person or a corporation — to own up to six liquor stores, an increase from the current two-store limit. An earlier version of Malloy’s bill proposed an increase to nine stores per owner, but Malloy reduced the number Monday after receiving many complaints from small liquor stores over the weekend.
Under Malloy’s proposal, the state would also have the power to set the maximum number of liquor licenses it issues, rather than leaving that responsibility up to municipalities. Malloy said in the statement that the change “will promote increased competition and flexibility among store owners.”
But small business owners said this competition will drive small liquor stores out of business. As stores begin to fail, Ronne said, the laws Malloy has proposed will allow large chains to buy the defunct stores’ permits. If this were to happen, he said, chains would be able to expand across the state, pushing more small businesses out of the market.
“It’s going to hurt small businesses,” he said. “People are going to lose jobs. Mom-and-pop stores are going to have a rough time.”
Supervisors at the local Stop & Shop declined to comment.
Connecticut’s prohibition on Sunday alcohol sales was enacted in 1933.