A coalition of independent liquor stores and other retailers are pulling out all the stops in a last ditch effort to keep an 80-year-old Prohibition-era law in place, pushing Governor Rick Scott to veto Senate Bill 106. The House and Senate passed the legislation to strike down the ancient restriction prohibiting certain types of alcohol from being sold alongside regular groceries inside big box retailers like Publix, Walmart and Target.
The bill will make retailers across the state more competitive with independent liquor stores that are forging ahead with online apps and other innovations to boost convenience for consumers. The retail industry as a whole has lost ground to online operations, but so-called “big box” stores like Walmart and Target employ more than a hundred thousand people in Florida alone. The bill is seen by retailers as a welcome boost.
After the bill passed the House and Senate last week, independent liquor store owners and other retailers launched a desperate lobbying and public relations offensive aimed at stopping the bill at the governor’s office. The campaign centered around exaggerated horror stories about how independent liquor stores will struggle to compete against bigger retailers, and how those same large retailers will allow easier access to alcohol. Media outlets around the state let the unsupported claims go unchallenged, reprinting nearly identical quotes in a handful of media markets that reeked of a coordinated PR campaign. The onslaught was timed to supplement a strategy to lobby the governor’s office.
But reality, mixed with a cold dose of statistics, throws cold water on the opposition’s argument. Unlike stand-alone liquor stores, big retailers like Target and Walmart employ trained security personnel that help combat shoplifting. And state data since 2012 proves that smaller liquor stores and gas stations have been cited nearly 200 times for selling alcohol and liquor to minors. Big box retailers like Publix, Target and Walmart had zero citations.
The claim that independent liquor stores won’t be able to compete if the bill is signed into law is just as easily dismissed.
A 2014 study of liquor store density revealed that there were 50 percent more liquor stores in states where there was no so-called liquor wall in place. Clearly, if liquor stores find stiff competition in states without the Prohibition-era law, its coming from a thriving market of independent retailers, not from big-box chains.
The bill is expected to land on Governor Scott’s desk for signature.