Rep. Mike D’Agostino, D-Hamden, talks with package store owners. Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

A group of Connecticut liquor store owners sought Thursday to caution the legislature’s General Law Committee against a bill to allow grocery stores to sell wine, a product currently sold only in liquor stores. 

The liquor store owners caught the ear of Rep. Mike D’Agostino, the committee’s House chair, in the Legislative Office Building prior to the panel’s late morning meeting. The committee was about to vote on whether to raise for consideration a bill that would allow grocery stores to sell cider and wine manufactured by small wineries.

Girish Patel, director of operations for Bottle Stop Wine and Spirits and director of the Indian American Package Store Association, had concerns. After his conversation with D’Agostino, he told reporters the bill would help big corporate grocery stores to the detriment of small package stores.

“This is no more than a classic example of a corporate cash grab,” Patel said. “Big corporations have done this to so many other industries. They’re looking to get into the wine business because they know it’s the most profitable product in adult beverages and … that package stores have the exclusive availability of it, they’re looking to erode at that.”

D’Agostino told Patel the committee would consider his concerns and weigh them against the interests of Connecticut consumers.

“Remember who I represent and the department we oversee — the Department of Consumer Protection,” D’Agostino said. 

“It’s not the ‘Department of Package Store Protection’ — consumer protection,” he said. “You’ve got paid lobbyists for the package stores, we’ve got all you guys representing the package stores, I’ve got paid lobbyists for the wine distributors, paid lobbyists for wine manufacturers, I’ve got paid lobbyists for beer manufacturers. There’s not a single lobbyist in the building for consumers. The only lobbyists … for consumers in the state of Connecticut are the legislators.”

D’Agostino said Patel and package store owners would be at the table if the committee opted to move forward with the bill. 

“To be honest with you, that’s why everyone here worked that out, everyone is excited to be here,” Patel told D’Agostino. “We want to be able to show you how invested we are.”

“Good,” D’Agostino said, motioning to the committee’s meeting room. “Come on in.”

Moments later the committee discussed the concept and some lawmakers on the panel questioned whether the committee should spend time this year on a proposal it had considered and declined to advance in the past. 

“Do I think it’s productive to have another 14-hour day where all of these small business people have to take the day off from work to come up here on an issue that I say to you, with all due respect, they probably don’t have the votes to vote this out of committee?” Rep. David Rutigliano, R-Trumbull, said. “Why put these small business people through this when we know what the outcome probably is going to be?”

Other members said raising the concept again would benefit newer members of the legislature who had not been present for earlier debates. 

Rep. Jonathan Fazzino, a first-term Democrat from Berlin, welcomed the debate. 

“I do feel that this is a very important issue, I have already heard a very significant amount of information from those in the package store industry as well as those in the grocery store industry,”  “However, I would like to hear more from the perspective of the consumers themselves.”