ANNAPOLIS – If large grocery chain stores are allowed to sell beer and wine, it would easily wipe out many small, family-owned liquor stores in Maryland, said opponents of a bill to allow chain stores to apply for liquor licenses.
“This bill is here for you to allow stores just to apply for a license . . . the license will still be given by the local boards,” said sponsor Sen. Nathaniel Exum, D-Prince George’s, at Tuesday’s Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee.
Under current law, chain stores such as Giant Foods, are forbidden to sell alcohol, and that’s the way it should stay, opponents said.
“We think the larger stores . . . would put a lot of pressure on smaller ones to survive,” said Nick Manis, deputy director of the Maryland Beer Wholesalers Association.
Another concern, he said, is that easier access to alcohol may pose a danger to the community, especially if misused.
“Beer is not like bread or soda pop, it has to be handled cautiously,” said Manis.
Beer wholesalers were showing their loyalty to smaller retailers by fighting the bill, he said.
Restricting alcohol sales to smaller establishments is also important to maintaining accountability, opponents said.
Owners of local stores are “connected to the community” and are motivated to follow the law in a highly regulated business such as alcohol sales, said Jane Springer, executive director for Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association.
But Exum said the bill makes purchasing alcohol easier for consumers.
“People talk about convenience and one-stop shopping . . . but if you can’t get it here then you have to go somewhere else. It’s a matter of convenience really,” he said.
Paul Fiore, spokesman for the Service Station and Automotive Repair Association, said the bill would provide another revenue source for service stations that are already struggling to survive.
Approval of an alcohol sales license is not guaranteed, bill supporters said. Control would be maintained locally.
“It doesn’t change the process . . . these stores are prohibited to apply, all we want is for them to be able to apply,” said Exum, whose district houses Safeway’s regional and Giant’s national headquarters.
“If they’re not able to apply,” he said, “they’re not able to present their case.”