Posted on | October 18, 2012
Written by | Paul Santelle
Assembly Majority Leader Living in Parallel Universe…
The time has come for New Jersey’s lawmakers to stand up and protect the liquor stores and wine shops that represent an essential part of our local economies as well as one of the few remaining retail opportunities left in our state for someone wanting to own their own business. They also represent cornerstones in many of the most successful downtowns throughout New Jersey.
Yet, once again our State’s alcohol industry is under attack. A1325 (and S2099) would crush hundreds of state-based small businesses and send thousands of employees to unemployment lines.
Assembly Majority Leader Greenwald, the Assembly bills’ primary sponsor, stated that the current two-license law is a “holdover from a bygone era when only mom and pop corner stores existed.” The fact is that 75 of the 79 package stores in Camden County (including his district) are “mom and pop” stores. The other four are owned by two grocery chains (including a Wegmans family member); a warehouse club; and a large out-of-state-based liquor chain. That breakdown pretty much sums up what any educated or informed legislator in our state would have to know to determine that there is something wrong with the Majority Leader’s rationale, especially when taking into consideration that those numbers will be the same throughout our entire state.
Scores of liquor stores in New Jersey are struggling right now due a recent and questionable practice of Wegmans family members who now collectively control five additional licenses over the state’s two-license corporate limit. More jobs have been lost than were created after these Wegmans-controlled stores opened. The bottom line is simple: the only thing Wegmans has done is stepped on the backs of local community-based small businesses, while increasing the accessibility of alcoholic beverages to minors. (Roughly 50% of the employees working in grocery stores are under 21 and half of them are under 18, and they are the ones working the evening and weekend shifts.)
Return to the Dark Ages
The reality of this bill would send us back 50 years and reopen a door to one of the darkest periods in the history of our state’s alcohol industry. Price fixing, collusion and corruption were rampant the last time grocery chains had huge buying power in New Jersey in our industry. In 1962, Governor Hughes, cleaned up the mess and determined that the two-license limitation was the only way to keep the grocery chains in line. Then in 1964, Chief Justice Hughes’ unanimous Supreme Court decision upheld the two-license law and said “The legislature, being aware of the threatened growth of chain liquors stores, including those associated with well-known supermarkets, need not wait until the evils have become flagrant and the State’s liquor control policy has been impaired”.
After a recent breakdown in our negotiations with the NJ Food Council and the Majority Leader, Wegmans stepped up their game plan and questioned our state’s largest wholesalers about their role in opposition the majority leader’s legislation. That sounds like Wegmans is trying to pry open the door to 1962 all over again, and that should be reason enough for every independent retailer to stand up and send a message to the Majority Leader that history has already started to repeat itself. If Wegmans is already willing to use their buying power and clout to put our wholesalers on notice, where will their corporate bullying stop?
Industry solidarity is our best option for stopping this attack on our industry! There are no sidelines to stand on when you are on a battlefield; the enemy wants YOUR LIVELIHOOD and they will not stop until they get it! Right now everyone reading this should write an opposition letter to Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver asking her to say NO to A1325! You can send it to her at the following address:
Speaker Sheila Oliver
15033 Halsted Street, Suite 202
East Orange, NJ 07018