An overhead view of the lobby of the Connecticut Legislative Office Building, where a few dozen people have congregated.
Members of the Indian American Package Store Association assemble in the lobby of the Legislative Office Building on January 19, 2023 ahead of a hearing before the General Law Committee on a proposal to allow wine sales in grocery stores. Erica E. Phillips / CT Mirror

More than a hundred residents testified Thursday on the issue of whether local grocery stores’ liquor permits should allow them to sell wine as well as beer. 

House Bill 5918 could allow grocery stores to sell cider and wine manufactured by small wineries, unless the store is located within 1,000 feet of a package store. 

The public forum lasted for over six hours. Advocates in favor of the change said current laws are outdated.

“As I traveled around the country, I often wondered why some states allowed wine to be sold in grocery stores and others did not. This led me to do some research, and I found that after prohibition ended, states were granted leave to decide what products were sold where,” Lisa G. Behan, of West Hartford, wrote in a testimony.

“At the time, Connecticut allowed only beer to be sold in grocery stores and designated package stores purveyors of the rest. Much has changed since 1933, and it is befuddling to me that Connecticut, a state that prides itself on its progressive stances and liberal attitude, is still allowing the sale of alcohol to be dictated by an out of date blue law.”

Others agreed, adding that the sale of wine in grocery stores would be more convenient for residents.

“It’s ridiculous that time, money and gas are being wasted for the inconvenience of having to go to another store just to get a bottle of wine to have with dinner,” wrote Joseph Cansler, who said he’s been a state resident for nearly a decade. “Not only does this extra effort create an obvious inefficiency, it results in extra traffic on our roads, which in turn contributes to global warming and climate change.”

On the other hand, those in opposition argued that convenience isn’t an issue and that the bill would only hurt local business owners.

“We have 1,250 package stores — you can’t throw a rock without hitting one. What is the problem? Is it convenience? … In 22 years as a state representative, I never once heard a constituent say ‘Darn! I’m having difficulty getting a bottle of wine,’” said Larry Cafero, the executive director of Wine and Spirit Wholesalers of Connecticut and a former state representative. “If we take away that foot traffic [from package stores], we’re going to have a loss of business.”

Cafero added that advocates of the bill can’t argue on the basis of convenience, because a grocery store having a dry cleaners or hairdresser would also make life more easier, but that’s never been an argument or proposed legislation.

Connecticut remains one of eight states that doesn’t allow the sale of wine in grocery stores.

Jessika Harkay is CT Mirror’s Education Reporter, covering the K-12 achievement gap, education funding, curriculum, mental health, school safety, inequity and other education topics. Jessika's experience includes roles as a breaking news reporter at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and the Hartford Courant. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Baylor University.