Food stores

Package stores aim for liquor license compromise with grocery stores

BOSTON (SHNS) — Massachusetts parcel shops are proposing a compromise ballot question that would increase the number of licenses available to grocery stores, but leave a license cap in place.

The head of the Massachusetts Package Store Association, which filed with the attorney general’s office to launch a 2022 ballot questions campaign, described the proposal as an ‘olive branch’ for food and convenience stores who previously sought to uncork unlimited beer and wine licenses and can do so again with their own election bill.

“We should go through the Legislative Assembly, not through this process, but we’re in a situation where if we don’t, my members are at risk of extinction, and that’s just not acceptable,” said the executive director of the MPSA, Robert Mellion. “That’s why we finally had to do this. We felt like we had no other alternative. »

The proposal would also limit the number of licenses allowing the sale of spirits, explicitly prohibit the sale of alcohol at self-service payment stations, and allow liquor sellers to rely on identification from another state. as part of a “reasonable defense” to the sales allegations. to a minor.

Sellers can currently accept out-of-state ID, but only Massachusetts IDs, passports, and military cards offer a defense against liability in the event of a sale to a minor. Mellion said some sports venues such as TD Garden have sometimes required customers with out-of-state ID to be 25 or older to purchase alcoholic beverages due to the current state of state law. state, which he says is at odds with the legal landscape in all other states.

The proposal also states that any store that sells alcohol to anyone under the age of 21 could be fined based on gross sales rather than just alcohol sales, a tougher penalty aimed at cracking down on purchases. of minors.

In 2020, Cumberland Farms pushed its own issue on the ballot, opposed by the package store association, which would have created a new grocery store license for the sale of alcohol and ultimately lifted all licensing caps. The company suspended its campaign months before the election and said it would try again in 2022.

In an interview on Friday, Mellion said he expects Cumberland Farms and its allies to bring a new question to the ballot before Wednesday’s deadline reflecting the intent of the bills (H 318, H 319 and H 414) that would authorize liquor sales in grocery stores or would repeal license limits.

“We’re trying to get ahead of the problem,” Mellion said.

Because many shoppers want to buy beer or wine with their groceries, and because parcel shops depend on spirits to drive much of their business, the language could serve as a compromise that offers benefits to both sides, a Mellion said.

“We have to be the adults in the room,” he said. “This bill should be the basis of any eventual compromise down the road. It gives (the) Mass Food (Association) what they wanted. Cumberland Farms could potentially walk away with nine additional licenses. This is something our members could live with.

Each legal or natural person is currently limited to a maximum of nine alcohol licenses in total, split between malt and wine licenses and all spirits licenses. The parcel shop issue would increase the number of liquor licenses a single company could hold to 12 from 2023, 15 from 2027 and 18 from 2031. Only seven of those licenses at most could allow the sale of all alcohol and spirits, while the rest could be for beer and wine. Any holder of nine liquor licenses would now be grandfathered.

Mellion said he informed Cumberland Farms and the Mass Food Association that he planned to file an initiative petition, but the groups did not cooperate. Proponents of the 2020 proposal could file their own competing ballot question, a step Mellion said he anticipates.

A representative for Cumberland Farms’ 2020 campaign could not be reached for comment on Friday. Sponsors have until the close of business Wednesday to file wording for ballot questions with the attorney general’s office.