A war over wine uncorked Thursday, as grocers once again urged Connecticut lawmakers to let them sell wine. But hundreds of liquor store owners fought back, arguing the move could kill their business.
Grocery stores can sell wine in 42 states. At a marathon legislative hearing, they argued it’s time to change the law.
“Connecticut consumers want the experience of perfectly pairing their meal with wine, and having both readily available in the same store,” Rob Rybick, president of Geissler’s Supermarkets, testified before the General Assembly’s General Law committee.
But the state’s powerful liquor store lobby, representing 1,250 stores, said the move is a job-killer.
“Package stores would lose an estimated up to 20% of their business, close to a 50% decline in the value of their asset,” argued David Leon, owner of Bloomfield Discount Liquors.
Grocery stores can sell beer. But for decades, efforts to add wine sales have failed. Vineyards argued it could open a new market for them.
“I’m tired of going into our local Big Y and seeing stacks of Connecticut beer artfully displayed next to local zucchini,” said Hilary Criollo, the owner of Hopkins Vineyard in Warren. “Why can’t this be wine too?
This year’s bill offers more protections for liquor retailers than past versions. Grocers could not sell wine within 1,000 feet of an existing package store, and they could only sell products from “small wineries” – a definition critics said is too broad.
“A ‘small winery’ that you’ve listed at 100,000 gallons equals 42,000 cases of wine – 90% of all wineries in the country sell under 42,000 cases of wine,” said Alan Wilensky of Max’s Package Store.
Both sides have hired an army of high-profile lobbyists, including former Connecticut House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz and former House GOP leader Larry Cafero. His group, the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of Connecticut Inc., brought three busloads of package store owners to Thursday’s hearing.
“We don’t have dry cleaning in a supermarket; we don’t have haircuts,” Carfero told lawmakers. “People would probably like that too. It just doesn’t happen.”
But beyond the store owners and their lobbyists, what do shoppers think?
A recent poll from the STATS Group found 84% of consumers support wine sales. A separate report from UConn’s Zwick Center for Food and Resource Policy found 82% support. But the Zwick survey also found that 51% of consumers would spend less at package stores.
Both studies were commissioned by the grocery industry.
Lawmakers also heard from the Tennessee Grocers and Convenience Store Association. That state expanded wine sales a decade ago. Since then, more liquor stores have opened up – but they report lower sales.
As for Connecticut, the General Law committee will likely tweak the legislation before taking a vote in the coming weeks. If it passes, the full Connecticut House would take up the bill.