Big box retailers do a better job restricting alcohol sales to minors, according to 2016 statistics from Florida’s Department of Business and Professional Regulation, which enforces restrictions on alcohol sales. But defenders of an 80-year-old law on the books since the Prohibition era are pointing to a recent incident at a Wal-Mart store as evidence that keeping a wall between groceries and liquor provides protection from underaged drinking. FloridaPolitics.com wrote last week that an incident involving a Lake Mary teen who stole and drank beer inside the store could have been much worse if the law were repealed.
But proponents of repealing the law point out the fact that the woman was caught, and the incident was handled professionally by Wal-Mart staff, which talked with the teen before calling police. They also point to DBPR statistics showing that big grocery retailers like Wal-Mart, Publix and Target had a perfect record in 2016 when it comes to preventing alcohol sales to minors: none were cited by DBPR for violating state liquor control laws, while smaller liquor stores were cited five times over the past 12 months.
One reason for the higher success rate at big box retailers may be due to the fact that the larger stores have more people on duty at any one time. That’s not the case in many liquor stores, where often a single clerk is responsible for running the cash register, helping customers find what they are looking for, and keeping an eye out for suspicious activity.
A recent incident at a liquor store in Miramar, Florida, underscores the point: one woman distracted the clerk while two others managed to steal $1,000 worth of liquor and get away with it. They are believed to be the perpetrators of a similar incident in Hallandale, Beach. There are plenty of other examples where the small number of employees at liquor stores have been quickly overwhelmed by thieves, which sometimes include children, looking to make off with expensive bottles of liquor.
Obviously, grocery stores and larger retailers aren’t immune to shoplifting or robberies, but many – especially Publix, Target and Wal-Mart – have trained loss prevention and security staff that are dedicated to preventing such thefts in the first place, as the incident with the teenager at Wal-Mart perfectly demonstrates.
Enhanced security is one of the benefits of the consumer convenience bill proposed by Senator Anitere Flores (SB 106) and Representative Bryan Avila (HB 81) that would repeal the existing law and allow shoppers at stores like Publix, Target and Walmart to buy liquor and distilled spirits alongside the beer and wine they can already purchase inside. The current law forces shoppers to exit the grocery store and visit an outside specialty store to complete their shopping lists.
Florida Businesses Unite, a coalition that opposes the bill to repeal the law, declined to address the security statistics and characterized the DBPR report as a distraction.
“It’s not all that surprising that an out-of-state corporation, like Wal-Mart, is now going after independent small businesses in Florida in a continued effort to grow their bottom line and avoid discussing their mounting bad press. This is a smokescreen and a ‘shiny object over here’ tactic, nothing more. There is no constituency asking for this change in law, only an out-of-state retailer, Wal-Mart, but there are many small business owners and their employees who oppose it.” said Sarah Bascom, spokesperson for the group, which says it is comprised of “likeminded Florida-based individuals, grocery stores, as well as liquor stores, small independents and established chains, to ensure the sale of hard liquor remains in the confines of Florida law.”
But Wal-Mart took umbrage at the suggestion it is an out-of-state business.
“While it’s true Wal-Mart’s headquarters are not in Florida, it is misleading to call us an out-of-state retailer,” said Wal-Mart spokesperson Monesia Brown. “Wal-Mart has been invested in Florida for over 30 years, providing jobs for over 100,000 associates at our 375 Walmart and Sam’s Clubs locations throughout the state. We take pride in the economic impact we’ve had on Florida, whether in billions of dollars in taxes paid to state and local governments or through our Foundation. In fact, last year alone the Wal-Mart Foundation gave over $78 million to local communities all around the state. All of the members of Floridians for Fair Business Practices have a long history of giving back to the state of Florida.”
A pro-repeal group, Floridians for Fair Business Practices, of which Wal-Mart is a member, also took a swipe at the claim that no constituents in Florida are clamoring for more convenience.
“There are many constituents who want a more convenient shopping experience and one such resident appears to be, oddly enough, Charles Bailes III, CEO of ABC Liquors,” said Michael Williams, spokesman for Floridians for Fair Business Practices. “ABC Liquors is partnering with companies like Instacart and Drizly to provide 1 hour delivery of alcohol right to the consumer’s door. In a recent interview, Mr. Bailes said, ‘Convenience is everything… we are providing our guests multiple options for delivery. Everyone has different needs and preferences, and we want to ensure our guests will have an option that is compatible with their lifestyles.’ We agree with Mr. Bailes and invite him to join us in our efforts to repeal this law and provide a convenient shopping experience for all Floridians.”