The rebellion against Connecticut’s liquor pricing regulations ended before the holiday weekend when both retailers, who had been openly disobeying the law, agreed to stop selling below the state-mandated minimum.
The first retailer, Total Wine & More, agreed to stop selling liquor below the state minimum at its four retail locations and paid a $37,500 fine, according to the Department of Consumer Protection.
The agency’s investigation into BevMart, the second retailer to thumb its nose at Connecticut’s laws, is still ongoing. In the meantime, the state Department of Consumer Protection said BevMart agreed to stop selling its liquor below the state minimum at its 11 locations.
“Immediately upon learning that Total Wine & More was advertising and selling products below what is permitted by the State’s minimum price rules, DCP’s Liquor Control Division opened an investigation,” Consumer Protection Commissioner Jonathan Harris said. “I am pleased that, through the hard work of many people at DCP, we were able to resolve this issue swiftly, and I appreciate that Total Wine worked with us to come to an agreement.”
Edward Cooper, vice president of public affairs for Total Wine & More, said the company paid the fine, but “makes no admission of any wrongdoing or liability.”
The co-chairmen of the legislative General Law Committee, Sen. Carlo Leone, D-Stamford, and Rep. David Baram, D-Bloomfield, who oversee consumer protection and liquor laws, thanked Harris for his swift response.
“As a result of its illegal actions, Total Wine & More will have to pay a substantial fine that we believe will send a strong message to any other liquor retailer that thinks it can break the laws of Connecticut and get away with it,” Leone and Baram said in a statement. “We respect everyone’s right to challenge the state’s laws in court and advocate for changes in our statutes as anyone may disagree with a law and fight to change it, but they cannot break the law without consequences, and DCP’s ruling underscores that anyone who chooses to do so will be addressed in accordance with our enforcement laws.”
Carroll Hughes, president of the statewide association of package stores, said he is pleased with the swift action.
“However we have uncovered several new issues dealing with Total Wine that we will be exploring in the future,” Hughes said without divulging exact details of those issues. The small package stores Hughes represents are afraid that changing the law would put them out of business.
The federal antitrust lawsuit Total Wine & More filed against the state challenging the pricing law that’s unique to Connecticut is still pending.
Earlier this week, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who has been trying to change Connecticut’s pricing laws for at least the last four years, said he believes the current law to be illegal.
“I believe we’re penalizing our state residents by charging them substantially more for alcoholic beverages than surrounding states,” Malloy said Tuesday.
However, Malloy said he wasn’t going to get involved in Harris’ investigation.
“I’m not going to get involved,” Malloy said. “The commissioner has a job to do and there’s a standard way in which that job is done.”