It’s getting tougher and tougher to compete in retail, mainly because online competitors are eating their traditional counterparts’ lunch, even in the grocery segment. This week, Amazon Prime announced free two-hour alcohol home delivery to limited markets on the East Coast. But retailers in much of the rest of the country don’t have to contend with Prohibition-era laws stifling their bottom line. Florida-based retailers who are prohibited from selling certain types of liquor alongside traditional grocery items, have pinned their hopes on two bills: HB81 and SB106, sponsored by Representative Bryan Avila (R-Hialeah) and State Senator Anitere Flores (R-Miami) respectively.
The bills aim to lift current “liquor wall” regulations which require grocery and big box stores to wall off access to areas where liquor, not beer or wine, is sold from the rest of their merchandise.
While independent liquor stores initially opposed the bill, experts say it lifting restrictions would allow them to add inventory to their stores to sell whatever products or merchandise they would like to, which could increasing sales and make independent retailers more profitable.
Big box retail chains employ hundreds of thousands of people in communities across the state. Wal Mart and Target alone employ more than 120,000 Floridians between them. But retailers are hurting, badly. Last month, Business Insider declared “The retail apocalypse has officially descended on America:”
Thousands of mall-based stores are shutting down in what’s fast becoming one of the biggest waves of retail closures in decades. More than 3,500 stores are expected to close in the next couple of months. Department stores like JCPenney, Macy’s, Sears, and Kmart are among the companies shutting down stores, along with middle-of-the-mall chains like Crocs, BCBG, Abercrombie & Fitch, and Guess.
While many stores are closing outright, many will continue to offer online shopping to customers that are looking for convenience. And convenience is exactly what is missing from the current law.
“Do we still believe this law from December of 1934 is appropriate in a time when I can pull out my smartphone and order alcohol and have it delivered to me?” asked State Senator Bill Galvano. “You’re talking about a wall between two forms of the same product.”
Even opponents to the bill know that consumers demand convenience. ABC Fine Wine & Spirits opposes the legislation, but that’s only because they don’t want more competition. But they don’t seem to mind outcompeting other independent retailers when it comes to convience, because ABC offers their own mobile smartphone app that allows customers to place orders online.
That’s why the bill’s opponents argue that lifting Roosevelt Era regulations would put minors at risk.
“High school kids are going to go on breaks for lunch and be able to buy alcohol. They could die while driving back to school or be arrested for DUI,” said Daphne Campbell (D-Miami).
But the argument falls flat when confronted with ABC’s smartphone app, online accessibility to beer and wine through Amazon Prime and one-hour delivery services like Drizly.com.
Just as under current law, the new legislation prohibits minors’ from purchasing alcohol, by requiring consumers to provide proof of legal age. Even Amazon Prime Now’s alcohol delivery service involves a multi-tier age and identity verification process which requires the shopper to be present at the time of delivery.
While the bills make their way through the Florida legislature, Alexa, the Amazon personal assistant, is taking orders.
Brian Burgess and Michael G. Ferrara contributed to this report.