A wide-ranging alcohol measure that would allow shoppers to pick up fifths of Jack Daniel’s in the same stores where they buy groceries passed its first House test Wednesday over the objection of Florida’s largest grocer.
Members of the House Business & Professions Subcommittee voted 9-4 to advance the measure (HB 107), which would remove an 80-year-old state law that requires liquor stores to be stand-alone facilities.
The bill has drawn opposition from independent liquor stores, some county sheriffs and Lakeland-based Publix. Meanwhile, support for the measure has come from retailers including Wal-Mart and Target.
Publix lobbyist Teye Reeves said the company’s business model has been to separate its liquor stores from the main grocery operations.
“At the end of the day, Wal-Mart has a very specific business model and Publix does not have the same business model, and we’re concerned that it will put us at a competitive disadvantage,” Reeves said.
But retailers that support the change say their customers are looking for increased convenience.
“A change to Florida’s outdated separation law would remove impediments, expand consumer choice, and level the playing field for all grocery retailers across the state, all while ensuring safeguards and security remain in place,” Wal-Mart spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg said in an email after the meeting.
Target lobbyist Jason Unger told the committee that the company is also looking at its business model, which includes smaller “express” locations in downtowns.
“As far as our expansion model, the separation law in Florida is a detriment,” Unger said.
The proposal, sponsored by Rep. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, also would make other changes in Florida’s alcohol laws. For example, it would allow beer tasting rooms at craft breweries and end the state’s prohibition on brewers being able to fill 64-ounce “growlers” for off-site consumption as they can with other size containers.
But most of Wednesday’s discussion focused on ending the regulation that requires stand-alone liquor stores.
Opponents claim the measure could put small independent liquor stores out of business and would make alcohol more accessible to minors.
“When a minor walks into a liquor store, they stand out like a sore thumb,” said Charles Bailes, chief executive officer of ABC Fine Wine & Spirits. “The barrier is necessary to keep alcohol out of the hands of teens, not because they purchase it but because they steal it.”
Steube said the measure is an effort to reduce regulations, and he disagreed with the contentions that eliminating the barrier will harm small businesses or make it easier for minors to get their hands on liquor.
“If you look at the facts and the data and the research, guess where kids get their alcohol from? Friends and families,” Steube said.
While voting for the overall bill, Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen, R-Fort Myers, said lawmakers need to balance free-market principles with public safety.
“This is not the Berlin Wall, this wall does not need to come down,” Fitzenhagen said. “It’s much safer for our kids to have a separate entrance when they are contemplating risky behavior. And as the mother of two teenagers, I know they do.”
Steube’s measure must still go through the Government Operations Appropriations Subcommittee and the Regulatory Affairs Committee before it can reach the House floor. The annual legislative session starts March 3.
–Jim Turner, News Service of Florida
BIG JOHN says
I agree with Publix. I do not want to go grocery shopping in a store that has a whiskey aisle. Beer and wine is ok but hard liquor needs to be kept in a separate store.
THE VOICE OF REASON says
I can see the wisdom of the argument that having liquor in the grocery store would make it easier for kids to walk out with it
I think convenience has to give way to the greater good on this one..
Leave the law as is now. When I go shopping to Publix for my groceries I rarely had to deal with a drunk causing problems…only once I saw that and was once too many. If we continuo this way then in the future may demand also to be able to sell guns in our grocery markets too?
Yep…because at ABC we’re always hounded by drunks in the aisle! Lol.
Don’t these legislators in Tallahassee have bigger fish to fry? Like resolve the Medicaid lack for the poor and stop funding the wealthy sports venues families (Frances, Aronson, etc.) with our tax funds?
When are they going to lobby to improve our beautiful Florida with the proper infrastructure in order to attract more jobs creating businesses in order to eliminate this toxic unemployment and poverty?
Obama 2015 says
No Medicaid ? Just go to Wal Mart and buy Jack Daniels and some Tylenol. Typical Republican leadership. Lets not tackle the hard stuff like Jobs and Medicaid expansion.
If it does pass. Publix just doesn’t have to sell liquor in their stores.
The store near Kohls has a stand alone store and that does great business.
Same with Walgreens near the Ford Dealer.
Also we have a HUGE ABC Liquor.
If they do they can put what they sell behind a counter with their Cigarettes and Lotto.
The public has enough choices to purchase Liquor and Alcohol in Palm Coast so it shouldn’t matter.
David B. says
I disagree with Publix. Can’t wait to someday be able to order all my groceries and liquor on line from one store and have it deliver to my house by a drone
As a consumer of beer wine and liquor I would like to see all 3 in one store. Competition lowers prices. Coming from Pennsylvania and seeing 1st hand how restricted the alcohol business is there I cant see how by adding liquor to a grocery store when beer and wine are available is going to be anymore of an issue. I will say even with the detached liquor stores purchasing alcohol in Florida is whole lot more convenient and affordable here in FL than back in PA. One thing that does grind my gears is using the “children” are pawns in and adult game. If people are worried about underage consumption stopping it starts at home.
Competition lowers prices and increases better service. If Walmart and other stores wish to purchase their liquor licenses and sale…good for them and good for us, the consumer.
My buying liquor in these stores doesn’t infringe on anyone else’s rights to not buy it there.
ABC only sales liquor and probably have tougher rules on their license and insurance approval regarding intoxicated people coming to their store and they enforce it religiously. Probably that is the reason you do not see intoxicated people in the ABC…Probably a grocery store does not have those stricter measures and that is why we see an incident like the one I witnessed, when not even the sheriff was called.
funny thing, nothing restricts a liquor store from selling groceries. I’ve been to many stores that sell cheeses, meats, fruit, etc. So why is it a problem?
Since 1940 says
I agree with Publix. In liquor stores it is easy to recogonize under age persons and know they are with an adult. It would only increase shop lifting at Publix if they sold alcohol because it is more congested. Publix is a very clean, friendly store and it doesn’t need to change its ways to be like the others. I shop Publix and do because they are different from the other stores.
Anyone who thinks whiskey gets a person drunk faster than beer or wine has obviously never seen a 40 year old divorcée drinking white zinfandel by the jug.