Florida’s retailers may soon be free of a Prohibition-era law that currently forces customers to purchase certain products in a separate location outside the store’s primary retail space. The law, passed in 1935, restricts the sale of certain products to licensed liquor stores only, and prevents access to other types of retail space. Customers visiting grocery stores like Wal-Mart, Publix and Target, are currently prohibited from buying distilled spirits in the same place they do their regular grocery shopping. While the law remains a consumer inconvenience, others see it as another example of government regulations run amok.
Many lawmakers in the Republican-controlled legislature were elected after campaigning for the idea that “government should not be in the business of picking winners and losers.”
This week, Senator Anitere Flores (R-Miami) and Representative Bryan Avila (R-Hialeah) filed companion bills in their respective chambers to repeal the law in a move they say will make retailers more competitive in the modern marketplace.
“I’m concerned that retailers around the state are being hurt by regulations that have no purpose other than to favor one business model over another,” said Senator Flores. “As legislators, we shouldn’t burden businesses with archaic regulations when they must be more innovative and forward thinking than ever to compete in the digital marketplace.”
“All around the world, consumers are going online for more of their shopping needs,” said Representative Avila. “This past Black Friday, more retail sales were made online than in stores and that trend will continue to grow. For our retailers to be able to compete with online sales, we need to allow them every opportunity to thrive, especially in areas where regulations are in place to stifle growth.”
Florida is in the minority of states that still restrict the sale of distilled spirits alongside beer, wine and other goods, and forcing consumers to visit two different stores to complete their grocery shopping. The group points out that repealing the outdated law would put all retailers on equal footing and allow for more competition in a growing digital marketplace.
“On behalf of the Floridians for Fair Business Practices, I applaud Senator Flores and Representative Avila for filing this pro-consumer, pro-business legislation,” said coalition member Carol Dover, President and CEO of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association. “The consumer, not the government, should be who the retailer turns to when deciding what to stock on their shelves. If a retailer wants to offer distilled spirits alongside the beer and wine they already sell, that should be their choice. It would only make sense for Legislators, who want to create an environment where businesses can compete, create jobs, and grow, to support this bill.
Not everyone is happy with the proposal.
“I am very disappointed that my senator, Senator Anitere Flores, would run a bill that would help out-of-state retailers to the detriment of small retailers, who have been operating under these laws for years, many here in the Miami-Dade area,” said Pete Izaquirre, owner of Pantry Liquors in Miami. Izaguirre is on the board of the Florida Independent Spirits Association. “It would be one thing if there was a constituency calling for this change, but there is not. In fact, it is the opposite – this impacts her constituents like me and many others like me, who will make their voices heard to fight this legislation. Senator Flores based her campaign on walking this community and saying she is a friend to local small business – keeping that in mind, she should withdraw this legislation and put her community first over out-of-state corporations.”
Rory Eggers, a member of Florida Businesses Unite, and executive director of the Florida Independent Spirits Association, also weighed in against the bill in an emailed statement:
“Florida Businesses Unite agrees that there are laws on the books that no longer meet the needs of Floridians and should be examined, but this legislation does not meet that criteria.This is nothing more than out-of-state corporate retailers wanting to add product to their stores for maximum profitability, to the disadvantage of Florida-based companies.”
If passed by the legislature and signed by the governor, the repeal would take effect on July 1, 2017.