Brett Cody Contributed Photo
Bill Fore, president of County Wine and Spirits in New Preston (Brett Cody Contributed Photo)

Since Gov. Dannel P. Malloy proposed a package of liquor law reforms last month, the ever-popular Sunday sales provision has grabbed public attention. But some small store owners feel the issue is a red herring.

Bill Fore, president of County Wine and Spirits in New Preston, said Friday that legalizing Sunday sales serves as a distraction from a legislative package that contains provisions that will be much more devastating to small store owners.

“I kind of assumed all along it would happen. If this is the year, so be it. But I really think it’s a red herring used to drive the issue with the public,” he said.

While Sunday sales is popular, Fore said the public should know that other provisions—like eliminating the minimum pricing requirements and allowing bulk discounts—will drive mom and pop stores out of business.

“They are what allow a small retailer like me to play on a relatively level playing field with big box stores,” he said.

If eliminated, a large store getting a bulk discount could make a healthy profit selling products at a price below what Fore said his shop would be paying wholesale.

Another major problem for small stores are the changes Malloy has proposed to the package store licensing or medallion system, he said.

Currently, the number of liquor store licenses issued in any given town are limited by the town’s population. One license can be issued for every 2,500 residents. As a result, Fore said there can only be two liquor stores in his town.

That exclusivity contributes to the value of his business because if someone wanted to open a liquor store in New Preston, they would either need to purchase his store or the town’s other package store, he said.

Under Malloy’s plan all existing store owners would be issued what’s called a medallion. Anyone looking to open a new package store would need to purchase a medallion from an existing owner but once they had one, they would be free to apply for a permit in any town they want.

So theoretically someone could buy a liquor store in Hartford and open one next door to Fore’s shop in New Preston devaluing his business.

To make matters worse, the medallions, which would be bought and sold on an open market, could plummet in value if many small stores go out of business as a result of the bulk discounts and the elimination of minimum pricing requirements, he said.

“What this amounts to is a destruction of personal wealth, of personally held value in the name of deregulation,” he said. “We’ll wake up owning an asset that’s worth maybe half, maybe less, than it was the day before.”

During an editorial board meeting last week with CTNewsJunkie, the governor was quick to point out that Connecticut has more package stores per capita than any other state in the nation. Meanwhile, it ranked 49th in beer consumption, he said.

“Put those two things together they’re incongruous,” he said. “We’re losing a lot of sales to other places and it’s not because we don’t have enough liquor stores.”

Malloy defended eliminating the minimum pricing requirement, saying the stated doesn’t require pharmacies to charge a minimum rate for Aspirin.

“The idea of having minimum pricing, quite frankly is outrageous. What price should Connecticut citizens be forced to pay to subsidize an inefficient system of delivery?” he asked.

But Fore and other small store owners spoke out against eliminating it at a Friday event in Goshen with Sen. Andrew Roraback, R-Goshen. Roraback agreed Malloy’s proposals will hurt small liquor stores.

Brett Cody Contributed Photo
Sen. Andrew Roraback at Goshen Wine and Spirits (Brett Cody Contributed Photo)

“If you like what Home Depot has done for our hardware stores, if you like what CVS has done for our drug stores, you’re going to love what the governor’s proposal does for our package stores,” he said in a phone interview.

Putting small package stores out of business will effect the “very fabric” of small towns like Goshen, he said.

“I live in a town that doesn’t have a grocery store, it doesn’t have a gas station. Our community cracker barrel is a neighborhood package store,” he said.

Though the event was attended by three Republican lawmakers, changing the laws governing alcohol sales tends to be a more regional than partisan issue. Lawmakers from towns that border other states are generally supportive of allowing Sunday sales because package stores in their towns lose business across the border.

Roraback’s Republican colleague Sen. John Kissel of Enfield said he’s very much in support of Malloy’s bill. Though Sunday sales has been debated by the legislature for years, Kissel said he’s confident it will actually pass this year.

“This year it’s completely changed in that the governor is strongly on board,” he said. “The governor has a strong track record of getting things through that he supports.”

Kissel said the ban on Sunday sales doesn’t make sense fundamentally.

“There’s no other area of commerce where there are limitations on the operating hours of the sale of a legal product,” he said.

Roraback said that may be the case but said changing the rules will hurt businesses.

“Understand that these people have built their businesses around the rules that exist and I don’t think it’s fair for us to change them,” he said.

Fore said he will be attending a public hearing on the proposal at the Legislative Office Building on Tuesday, Feb. 28. Carroll Hughes, the head of the Connecticut Package Store Association, said expects as many as 1,500 package store owners to come to the hearing.