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Connecticut politicians continue debating if grocery stores should be allowed to sell wine

LITTLETON, CO - OCTOBER 20: Gail Morin shops for wine at her local Safeway, which she says is convenient as she was also able to pick up a number of food items. Colorado state law allows one store per chain to sell 3.5% beer, wine and spirits, but alcohol companies are fighting to get their products on the shelves of every store. Safeway at South Broadway and Mineral in Littleton on Tuesday, October 20, 2015. (Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
AAron Ontiveroz
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The Denver Post / Getty Images
FILE: Colorado resident Gail Morin shops for wine at her local Safeway, which she says is convenient as she was also able to pick up a number of food items. Colorado state law allows one store per chain to sell 3.5% beer, wine and spirits, but alcohol companies are fighting to get their products on the shelves of every store.

In the first week of February, more than 100 people turned out at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford for a hearing before the General Law Committee about a bill called "HB-5918." It's a measure that would let grocery stores sell wine.

Connecticut is one of only eight states that do not allow grocery stores to sell wine. Advocates of the proposal declared that most customers want the convenience of not having to go to a separate store to get a bottle of wine. But representatives of the state’s 1,250 package stores argued that letting grocery stores sell wine would put small package store owners out of business.

In written testimony, Connecticut Food Association President Wayne Pesce disagreed. "This claim is patently false," Pesce wrote. "If the law is amended, a fair portion of supermarket wine sales will be incremental, as wine in grocery store sales in other states has shown."

HB-5918 wouldn’t allow grocery stores total free rein on selling wine and hard cider. Grocers would only be allowed to sell wine manufactured by small wineries, unless the store is located within 1,000 feet of a package store. In that case, the grocer would not be allowed to sell wine and hard cider.

But David Baram, an attorney for the Connecticut Package Store Association, said it would be easy for grocers to get around that 1,000-foot rule. "What happens if a grocery store operates an adjacent free-standing package store like Stew Leonard's, or Costco?" Baram asked in written testimony. "Is it clear that the distance requirement will prohibit wine sales inside the grocery store if located within the one thousand foot distance limitation?"

Jonathan L. Wharton, associate professor of political science and urban affairs at Southern Connecticut State University, wrote a column about this proposal in Hearst Newspapers titled "More Opportunities for Wine and Whine." Speaking on Connecticut Public Radio's "All Things Considered," Wharton said this issue "is about convenience and availability, but also about the marketplace." Regarding the large public turnout, Wharton credited the efforts of the Connecticut Package Store Association. "It's interesting to see how the package store owners can really leverage a lot of power. And they do, there's no doubt about it," Wharton said. "They're very good at it."

The Day of New London reports that a vote on HB-5918 is expected by March 21. Click on the audio above to hear more of Wharton's remarks on "All Things Considered" regarding the debate over allowing grocery stores to sell wine in Connecticut.

John Henry Smith is Connecticut Public’s host of All Things Considered, its flagship afternoon news program. He's proud to be a part of the team that won a regional Emmy Award for The Vote: A Connecticut Conversation. In his 21st year as a professional broadcaster, he’s covered both news and sports.

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