Saturday, January 20, 2018
Business

Walmart-backed bill would allow grocery stores to sell spirits

Two things people learn quickly upon moving to Florida: In most counties, you can't buy alcohol bright and early on Sundays and, if you want the hard stuff any day of the week, you have to go to a liquor store.

Since the repeal of Prohibition in the 1930s, Florida law has prevented grocery stores from selling spirits unless they have a separate store with its own entrance. Hence, all these small liquor stores attached or next door to a lot of major grocery stores and even Walmart.

Some lawmakers say that's ridiculous, cumbersome and archaic. Why, in this age of convenience, should customers have to go to two stores for their dinner and night cap. Doesn't rum belong with rump roasts?

Republican legislators Sen. Bill Galvano of Bradenton and Reps. Jimmie Smith of Inverness and Greg Steube of Sarasota have filed bills that would eliminate the separation rules. The legislation is backed by Walmart and Target, big box retailers thirsty for alcohol sales. It has been referred to committees but hasn't been heard.

Understandably, the bills are driving small liquor store owners to pour a tall one. And another. And another. Who would need the mom and pops if shoppers could buy everything under one roof?

"It would really take away from the little guys,'' said Jeannine Robinson, a bartender at the Hub in downtown Tampa, which has a package store that's open until 3 a.m.

Charles Bailes, CEO of Orlando-based ABC Fine Wine & Spirits, said the implications go far beyond money. Selling spirits the next aisle over from cereal creates an invitation for underage drinking. As we all know, a bottle of whiskey just isn't the same as a bottle of beer.

"The issue is how easy do we want to make it for teens to get liquor,'' he said. "When you increase access to minors, you increase abuse and all the things that come with it.''

Even the best identification systems at checkout aren't foolproof, he said. Teenagers are sneaky, especially when eager to party. In the vastness of a grocery store, minors might be tempted to stuff a fifth of Jim Beam down their shorts or take a few swigs then hide the rest behind a bag of chips. In a smaller liquor store with mostly adults, they might not have the opportunity nor the nerve.

"When a minor walks into our store they stick out like a sore thumb,'' said Bailes, who is lobbying hard against the bill. "When they walk into a grocery store, they belong.''

A quick trip down memory lane, and it's not hard to see his point. If there's a will to drink, there's always a way. Make it easier and you're asking for more trouble.

Consider who works at stores selling alcohol. ABC, for instance, doesn't employ anyone under 21, except in their main office, while many grocery stores employ teenagers. Can you really expect an underage stock boy to keep a watchful eye on the liquor aisle?

Floridians for Fair Business Practices, a Tallahassee group promoting the legislation on behalf of Walmart and Target, said concerns related to underage drinking are unfounded. Spokeswoman Christina Johnson said grocery stores that already sell beer and wine have rigorous training and security measures in place and can't afford to get lax.

Ending the separation rule would eliminate unnecessary regulation, improve customer convenience and encourage more competitive pricing. Florida is one of just 16 states nationwide to have the requirement.

"We're just looking at it as a common sense law,'' she said. "People have access to alcohol right now, whether they go in one door or another.''

The stakes are high. Hard liquor brings in loads of money for stores, largely because the prices are higher than other products. Take away some of that business, and you take away a big chunk of revenue.

Notably, Publix hasn't taken an official position on the issue but has got to be watching it closely. It knows from experience that Walmart isn't content to coexist peacefully. It wants a bigger share of the market, whether it comes to selling jars of jelly or bottles of gin.

Times researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report. Susan Thurston can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 225-3110.

Comments
Tampa Bay jobs chief Ed Peachey making top dollar

Tampa Bay jobs chief Ed Peachey making top dollar

For years, Edward Peachey has bragged about the number of jobless people he has helped find work.As president and CEO of CareerSource Pinellas and CareerSource Tampa Bay, he’s in charge of the two main government agencies that provide training to the...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Inspector General launches investigation into Tampa Bay’s local career centers

Inspector General launches investigation into Tampa Bay’s local career centers

The state has opened an investigation into CareerSource Pinellas and CareerSource Tampa Bay, days after the Tampa Bay Times asked about whether the two regional job centers were inflating the number of people they had helped get hired. The agencies, ...
Published: 01/19/18
Tech firm TranferWise moves to Ybor City, illustrating a new chapter in Tampa’s business history

Tech firm TranferWise moves to Ybor City, illustrating a new chapter in Tampa’s business history

TAMPA — You could sketch an economic history of the city of Tampa — and maybe get a glimpse of its future — just by looking at the old J. Seidenberg & Co./Havana-American Cigar Factory.It opened in 1894, making it Ybor City’s second-oldest brick ciga...
Published: 01/19/18

Want to buy into an exchanged-traded bitcoin fund? You might have a long wait

NEW YORK — It may be a while, if ever, before investors can buy an exchange-traded fund made up of bitcoin and other digital currencies. Federal regulators have a long list of questions they want answered before they’ll approve a digital currency fun...
Published: 01/19/18
Child psychologist weighs in on mom who charges 5-year-old ‘rent’

Child psychologist weighs in on mom who charges 5-year-old ‘rent’

A Georgia mother has gone viral for charging her 5-year-old "rent." Yup — the kid pays up for food, water, cable and electric, too.Essense Evans described in a Facebook post how she handles her daughter’s allowance. The post, written on Saturday, was...
Published: 01/19/18

Addicted to your smartphone? Now there’s an app for that

Did you text? Sorry, I can’t see messages right now. Arianna Huffington locked my phone.The media tycoon turned wellness entrepreneur wants to keep you out of your phone, too, with a new app called Thrive. Its goal is to make it cool for a generation...
Published: 01/19/18
Proposed monument near St. Pete pier would honor Tony Jannus history-making flight

Proposed monument near St. Pete pier would honor Tony Jannus history-making flight

ST. PETERSBURG — Tony Jannus’s history-making flight in an early seaplane — simultaneously as ungainly and graceful as a pelican on the wing — is what Mayor Rick Kriseman calls an "under-told and under-appreciated" story, but a team of local history ...
Published: 01/19/18
Learn how bus rapid transit (and rail) could work in Tampa Bay

Learn how bus rapid transit (and rail) could work in Tampa Bay

ST. PETERSBURG — The newest hope for transportation in the Tampa Bay area is a bus rapid transit system projected to cover the 41-miles separating St. Petersburg from Wesley Chapel and attract 4,500 new riders at a fraction of the cost of light rail....
Published: 01/19/18
Five things Tampa Bay needs to know about bus rapid transit

Five things Tampa Bay needs to know about bus rapid transit

ST. PETERSBURG — Transportation planners on Friday unveiled a new transit vision for Tampa Bay leaders on Friday morning: Bus rapid transit.Also known as BRT, it has arisen as the leading option in an ongoing study to find the best regional transit p...
Published: 01/19/18
Amazon boosts monthly Prime membership fees by 20 percent

Amazon boosts monthly Prime membership fees by 20 percent

NEW YORK — Amazon is raising the price of its Prime membership monthly plan by nearly 20 percent. The fee of $99 for an annual membership will not change, the company said Friday. The online retailer had added the monthly payment option about two yea...
Published: 01/19/18