Posted on | May 21, 2012
Written by | Paul Santelle
Two-License Challenge Talks May Cross from Main Street to State Street Next Month
There have been several meetings in recent months on the great debate of defining what would have to happen legislatively to increase the State’s current two-license limit for package stores. First and foremost, the official position of the NJLSA is that this is not the time to be rolling the dice with an issue that will only lead to a reduction of independent package stores and an increase in supermarket and chain stores. We are still waiting for the implementation of the Winery-to-Consumer Direct Shipping legislation, which will unquestionably hurt our State’s retailing and wholesaler sectors. It will be at least a full year down the road before we will be able to properly access the full extent of the damage from that agenda.
Needless to say, there are members of our Legislature who insist on pressing forward with their quest to fulfill this other major out-of-state agenda we call the “grocery bill” (A-1325). In spite of our official position, we have been forced to the negotiating table under the pretense that this agenda will be moving with or without our input in the coming months. Our board of directors met and determined that the best approach to this legislation would be to insure that, at a minimum, some form of a level playing field be maintained.
Therefore, we have offered the New Jersey Food Council and the Primary Sponsor of their legislation an increase in the number of licenses from two to four with the ability to have a fifth license in one of legislatively defined ten priority cities (Atlantic City, Camden, East Orange, Elizabeth, Jersey City, Newark, New Brunswick, Paterson, Trenton and Vineland). In return, we are requiring that there be NO comingling of alcoholic beverages with other grocery products; that the entire licensed premise be segregated with an exterior exit and entrance and separate registers and employees; and, most importantly, that there be NO common egress between the grocery store and the package store. Clearly, this would be as close to a level playing field as we will find, and all existing licensed retailers would have to conform.
Matters of Public Safety & Retail Fairness
These requirements would insure that proper public safety adherence would be utilized for every licensee, and would insure that other potential licenses in convenience stores, pharmacies, warehouse clubs and other big box stores would all be on the same level playing field with proper controls in place for monitoring and restricting the accessibility of alcoholic beverages to minors. There is little doubt that we—as independent retailers—are giving up everything while exposing ourselves to a guarantee of hundreds of new competitors who are planning to use alcoholic beverage sales to do nothing more than subsidize grocery sales with ancillary revenue streams for their primary retail business models.
The State of New Jersey’s “Alcoholic Beverage Control Act” clearly defines our States’ obligation to maintain a stable marketplace with a level playing field and anything less would be unjust, unfair and unacceptable. We would like to think that our State Legislature will not turn this out-of-state agenda into another free trade crusade like the Winery-to-Consumer Direct Shipping tryst. There are more reasons for why we are a regulated industry than there are exits on the Garden State Parkway, and the NJLSA is committed to making sure that every Legislator is as informed as possible of those reasons in the coming months!
However, if we believe that we are being thrown in front of another out-ofstate bus (like the one that had Direct Shipping on its bumper sticker) then we will be asking everyone connected to our efforts to get on the phone and then come down to Trenton to circle the wagons and let our legislators know we are counting on them to not sell us out!