It is not surprising that local beer and wine stores are opposed to changing the law to allow supermarkets to sell beer and wine. It would be harmful to their business, and all businesses must be fiercely protective of their bottom line.

But that does not necessarily make it a bad idea.

The Frederick County liquor board heard from constituents who would like to see the law changed, and the board is considering recommending the change. It held a public hearing, and it is studying the experience of other counties in the state and others states in allowing beer and wine sales in grocery stores.

Gathering information is the right thing to do for any governmental body considering making or recommending a change to long-established law.

Maryland generally permits counties to decide how to regulate alcoholic beverage sales. Some, such as Montgomery County, permit beer and wine sales in a single store in a chain, such as one Giant supermarket. Other counties allow wider sales.

The national trend is to allow some alcohol sales in grocery stores, almost always beer and usually wine. By the count of one website, 41 of the 50 states allow some form of alcohol sales in supermarkets. Sales of hard liquor by grocers, however, is much less common.

It is not surprising then that consumers are increasingly asking local officials to allow such sales, usually as a matter of convenience. In today’s busy, hurried world, most consumers would like to have the option of making one stop to buy food and beer or wine.

At the liquor board’s recent public hearing, The Frederick News-Post’s Cameron Dodd reported, more than a dozen owners of liquor stores said they opposed the legislation. They told the board that allowing grocery stores to sell beer and wine would destroy their businesses.

One food store manager, Bob Thompson of Common Market, in supporting the proposal, made a good summary of the argument in favor.

“Selling locally made beer and wine would be keeping with Common Market’s mission to sell local products,” Thompson said. “Our consumers come from a wide area, and they’re used to other states having beer and wine in grocery stores. We’re trying to be aware of customers’ needs and wants.”

Some liquor stores in the county have licenses that permit them to sell all kinds of alcohol, but others are limited to selling beer and wine. Those owners can make the strongest argument against the proposed change.

Bob Kannor, owner of Viniferous beer and wine store in Frederick, said his and other businesses would not last if they had to compete with grocery stores.

“I don’t think Common Market should sell beer and wine, because they’re going to put local stores like mine out of business,” he said.

On assessing this question, the board must basically decide whether its first responsibility is to the businesses that it regulates, or to the consumers who want to buy the alcoholic beverages.

We believe the correct answer is that its first responsibility is to the county’s consumers. We are not insensitive to the needs of the business owners, but we believe the board should first consider the wishes of consumers.

If beer and wine sales are permitted in grocery stores, though, the board could take steps to help store owners. For example, it could allow all beverage store owners to sell hard liquor that would not be allowed in supermarkets. Consumers looking to buy vodka or bourbon would still need to stop in a separate location, and many would use that occasion to buy wine or beer as well.

The proposed change would put pressure on beverage stores owners, requiring them to compete more vigorously with grocery stores. They might want to offer wider selection, better prices, faster service or more expertise on the part of their employees.

Beer and wine sales in grocery stores need not sound the death knell for smaller retailers, but they will need to give the consumer a good reason to continue visiting them. And the liquor board should help the beverage stores weather the transition by giving them the tools they need.

Board chair Debbie Burrell seems to understand the need to balance competing interests on this issue. She said the commission will consider comments from both supporters and opponents.

“We’re just at step one,” she said at the public hearing.

(19) comments

Mickey7

Personally, I don't care but who gets in trouble if alcohol is sold to a minor?

david_gaithersburg

The law forced the current liquor store owners to pay $100k or more for their license. If these corrupt politicians want to change the game then they should use the bribe money the grocery stores are paying them to buy out the liquor store owners.

dcmetro

While the politicians continue to work this out I will continue buying wine at Costco in Northern Virginia and the occasional trip through Delaware at Costco in Christiana for a bottle or two of liquor. I really don't have a need for any of Frederick or Montgomery Counties liquor stores since I'm passing through VA and DE on a regular basis. I honestly don't care about me spending my money in other states. I'm more concerned with my own wallet rather than theirs.

timothygaydos

First it will not ruin their business - if anything free market capitalism will spur the market in a more positive direction and allow for competition that will drive the consumer to the place that offers not only the best prices but the quality of selections.

Fleawest

If this is all in the name of convenience then why do I still need to go to a liquor store to get bourbon? Why isn't hard liquor sold at the grocery store? Booze is booze. It should be all or nothing.

mamlukman

These laws that restrict the purchase of alcohol are simply the remnants of Prohibition. Since that was ended 80+ years ago, isn't it time to bring state laws into the 21st century? I'm sure manufacturers of buggy whips complained about automobiles too. So what?

Shelley T

I move to Florida from Frederick two years ago and I love the convenience of being able to buy beer and wine at the grocery store. The grocery stores generally only carry lower end/ mass produced beers wines. So there are still plenty of liquor stores and high end wine shops. Its a non-issue.

Hog Jowl

The current system of distribution is corrupt and everybody knows it. Wine makers and importers are forced to use distributors who add zero value and jack up prices with no benefit except to perpetuate the line of paid for politicians protecting this scam on the people of this state. It is not free market, it is born of corruption and any politician who takes money from distributors (darn near all) are corrupt in my book. The three tier schnook system must die.

public-redux

[thumbup]

mogval123

In places I've been that have beer and wine in grocery stores, the selection is poor, consisting of the most popular major brands. And I would never ask a grocery clerk about the beer or wines they carry. Customers looking for local micro-brews, or specialty beers, wines from our local vineyards, or knowledgeable people will still need to go elsewhere -except those alternatives will be out of business. Their storefronts will be empty, their employees looking for work, Frederick doesn't need more empty stores and unemployed workers.

I think Common Market would be an exception, since they stated that they want to carry local beer and wine exclusively. Like Trader Joes, theirs is more of a niche market of people looking for the unusual.

nbouqu1

There is another consideration.... selection... the grocery stores are not going to suddenly have more shelf space. The addition of beer and wine in the grocery store will mean less space for what is already offered, some brands or even whole items regardless of brand will be dropped.

gabrielshorn2013

Many states, including VA and NC allow beer and wine sales in supermarkets. It hasn’t hurt the craft beer industry in those states one bit as far as I can see. There are still plenty of liquor stores in those states.

DickD

Liquor stores can become convenience stores, but just selling hard liquor will not be enough.

Dwasserba

"On assessing this question, the board must basically decide whether its first responsibility is to the businesses that it regulates, or to the consumers who want to buy the alcoholic beverages." Yes. Which is it.

DickD

The stores were started because of the law which prevented normal sales. We don't need the law, never did.

BMedic

Very True.[thumbup]

shiftless88

Virginia makes it work just fine. So do most states. The archaic liquor laws in Maryland (including the totally screwed up distribution laws regarding breweries) need to go.

Nicki

I agree, Shift!

threecents

[thumbup]Shifty

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