Connecticut is one of only eight states in the country denying responsible adults the convenience of buying wine where they shop for food, requiring them instead to make a second trip to a package store. It is time to end the Prohibition Era quirk in Connecticut law preventing grocery stores from selling wine.
The law is so out of step with the times that, as of January, it is now possible to buy recreational marijuana at several locations in Connecticut, but you still cannot buy a bottle of Cabernet at a grocery store. Clearly, the current law grants package stores a monopoly at the expense of the hundreds of thousands of consumers who shop in food stores weekly and who want the opportunity to purchase a bottle of wine while doing so.
The issue of grocery store wine sales has been debated for decades in the Connecticut legislature, and the most successful argument against the concept is legislators’ concern that allowing grocery stores to sell wine will hurt small local package stores. Experience and extensive research prove this is simply not the case.
There was once a time when beer could not be sold in Connecticut grocery stores. There was once a time when you could not buy any alcohol on Sundays. Despite vehement objections from the package store industry, both those prohibitions were lifted, and neither has negatively impacted the life of any local package stores. In fact, in both cases, general sales of alcohol increased, bringing more tax revenue to the state of Connecticut.
Moreover, the number of Connecticut package stores has increased, not decreased, since Sunday alcohol sales were legalized in May of 2012.
A recent study by the Zwick Center for Food and Resource Policy at the University of Connecticut shows the following: consumers favor grocery store wine sales as a matter of convenience and don’t believe they would shop less at package stores if they had the option to buy wine in a grocery store. The Zwick Center study further concludes that allowing grocery store wine sales would increase sales tax revenue to the state by almost $2 million per year over the next 20 years and twice that in the following decades.
According to the same study, this proposed change would cause minimal disruption in the market while allowing drinking age adults in our state a preferred option. There is no evidence to back up the claim that expanding the availability of wine to grocery stores would put package stores out of business.
Allowing wine sales in grocery stores does not necessarily mean every grocery store will sell wine, nor does it mean shopping patterns will change dramatically. Not every grocery store will choose to sell wine.
Some retailers, like Target and Wal-Mart, will continue to be prohibited from selling alcohol of any kind because their inventory consists of less than 50% food. Additionally, grocery stores are unlikely to stock large varieties of wines because wine will be offered as a matter of convenience, not as a matter of specialty. Consumers looking for specific brands or seeking a specific experience will continue to seek out expert advice and wider variety at package stores with the inventory space and staff knowledge to offer expert guidance.
Leaders at the State Capitol have pledged this year to make Connecticut a more business-friendly state, to offer ideas and legislation designed to grow and expand the economy. One step in the right direction would be making this small change to our state law that is rooted in a bygone era and that unfairly protects one group of retailers at the expense of others—and, most importantly, at the expense of consumers.
Research shows that if this issue were put directly to the voters, wine sales in grocery stores would win with 84% of the vote. In other words: a landslide.
Wayne Pesce of Middlebury is the President of the Connecticut Food Association.