After years of fighting the legalization of Sunday alcohol sales, the Connecticut Package Store Association abandoned the fight Tuesday to focus on other liquor law changes which favor supermarkets and big box stores. But will it be too little, too late?
Carroll Hughes, the head of the Connecticut Package Store Association, announced the shift amongst a sea of liquor store owners who came to the Legislative Office Building for a public hearing on the bill. Capitol police estimated that around 900 people came to the public hearing.
“We gave up Sunday sales and holidays today and they’re accepting of that. They may be upset at me a little bit, some of them, but the others I think understand that we have to clear the decks here so we can talk about the things that affect the stores,” he said.
Hughes said Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s proposal to reform the state’s alcohol laws threaten to put many of his members out of business. But Malloy offered a compromise on Monday. That compromise seemed genuine according to at least one package store owner, but Hughes is still fighting for more favorable changes.
“Maybe we have too many package stores in Connecticut. The governor’s said that, I don’t disagree with him, but that’s what we have here. Who decides who the 500, 600 stores that are going to go out of business?” he asked.
Malloy’s bill is gaining support in the legislature and Hughes said the decision to concede Sunday sales was an effort to get something helpful out of the bill. The measure contains provisions that are helpful for convenience stores and grocery stores, he said.
“I knew I would be the last one in or the only one out. We’re the only ones out. Everybody is getting something,” he said.
Hughes said giving up Sunday sales gained his group substantial support from lawmakers who support the provision but are against others in the bill. He said he is most opposed to Malloy’s plan to allow food stores to open more package stores over time. Currently they can open two liquor stores but only if they do not sell beer inside the grocery stores.
“I don’t want any permits in the food stores. None. They can go get two right now and many of them have two permits,” he said.
He said Malloy’s proposal favors large chain supermarkets, many of them headquartered outside the country.
Hughes is also planning on fighting a provision that allows package stores to sell some products below their acquisition price. On Monday the Malloy administration revised their original plan to allow products to be sold for less than their wholesale price. But the revised plan still allows each store to pick five items, which could be sold for less than that price.
Hughes said because liquor products are so limited, that will result in every product being sold beneath acquisition price somewhere in the state.
“Excuse me, there’s only 15 spirit items sold in Connecticut. The top 15. So somebody’s going to sell five, someone else is going to sell five and somebody else is going to sell five and all the items out there are going to be sold for 10 percent below cost,” he said.
Hughes who has successfully beat back Sunday sales proposals in the past may face his toughest competition yet this year. More than 350 people rallied in support of ending the ban on Sunday liquor sales outside the Capitol Tuesday morning, the Capitol Police estimated.
The coalition calling themselves the “End CT Blue Laws” spoke about the high prices of liquor in Connecticut and the wide public support for legalizing Sunday sales. Stan Sorkin, president of the Connecticut Food Association, said many of the group’s members are independent grocers.
“We fully support efforts to modernize the state’s liquor laws, lower prices and keep sales for Connecticut businesses from disappearing to other states,” he said.
The General Law Committee hearing on the bill at 11 a.m.