You can buy a joint in Connecticut, but not Chardonnay at Stop & Shop

I had a nice chat this week with Jean Cronin, executive director of the Connecticut Package Store Association, which is bracing for a huge legislative battle this year over allowing wine sales in grocery stores.

“It will be quite a fight, and we are looking forward to it,” the pleasant Cronin told me, as she outlined some of the arguments she plans to deploy on behalf of the 1,200 package store owners in the state.

I have no doubt Cronin will muster a formidable lobbying effort to block efforts by the Connecticut Food Association to convince Connecticut lawmakers this year to allow wine sales in grocery stores.

I must say, though, that I find her arguments to protect the traditional fiefdoms of wine sellers, which in eastern Connecticut includes a single, enormous conglomerate, fall pretty flat.

After all, you can now legally buy marijuana in Connecticut, legalization that had strong but not overwhelming public support. The food sellers will tell you that, on the other hand, the public supports wine sales in grocery stores in huge numbers.

You can expect to see a lot of that polling soon, as the legislative battle unfolds in Hartford. There are already 42 states that allow grocery stores to sell wine.

The package stores suggest that they can better safeguard the public from inappropriate liquor sales, to minors for instance.

If I were a lawmaker, I would demand to see some statistics on that.

Grocery store clerks assiduously check my ID for beer sales, and I am obviously old and withered and have been buying liquor legally almost since Nixon was president. I would not be surprised if an analysis showed more beer sale violations by package stores than grocery stores.

Cronin told me lawmakers need to protect package store jobs.

Well, I think a lot of us grew to love grocery store employees who braved COVID-19 exposure and kept us fed during the pandemic. And I for one would certainly like to protect their jobs.

Cronin also said consumers will lose wine choices if the grocery stores are allowed into the business, because liquor stores, which may feature more specialty wine varietals, will have less revenue and be able to invest less money in inventory.

I’d say that if a consumer demand exists for those special varieties of wines, someone will stock and sell them in a robust free enterprise system.

And, really, that is what this fight will be about: economic protectionism for a particular class of business or free and open competition in the marketplace.

It’s hard to see how Connecticut lawmakers are going to be able to side with the protected, entrenched liquor store owners against the notion of free enterprise, especially when most state voters don’t understand why they can’t buy a bottle of Chardonnay from a grocery store that wants to sell it to them.

The last time liquor store owners went to major battle stations it was to protect the ban on Sunday liquor sales.

We all know how that one turned out. And I suspect and hope this one goes the same way.

Original article can be found at The Day.

Dan Haar: Supermarkets launching all-out push for wine sales in CT

Buying wine in a supermarket counts as one of those activities we do in other states, which causes us to wonder, why can’t we have that in Connecticut?

The reason is that the owners and employees of this state’s 1,250 package stores have persuaded lawmakers over the decades that we’re better off keeping wine and spirits exclusively on their shelves, not in food stores, which do sell beer. They cite jobs, variety of offerings, price, support for local commerce, family business and, you know, everything that’s good and right about America.

They might finally lose their protection in 2023.

When the state legislature opens for another year Wednesday, supermarkets will fight for the right to sell wine like never before, or at least like they haven’t in many years.  The battle of the bottle already features competing “grassroots” websites with thousands of consumers taking sides, and a lineup of lobbyists and industry groups eager to uncork their arguments at the Capitol.

As you might expect, the food stores are making the same arguments as the package stores, in reverse: Letting them purvey California cabernets, Rieslings from the Rhineland and Connecticut claret would ferment convenience for customers and raise the glass for everyone, the food sellers say.

And they say, it would end an arcane practice with roots in a different era, bringing Connecticut in line with 42 states that allow supermarkets to roll wine through the checkout line.

“What we believe is that the market will grow,” said Wayne Pesce, president of the Connecticut Food Association, which represents large supermarkets, smaller food retailers and suppliers.

“This is Connecticut, we have the most puritanical liquor laws in the United States,” Pesce added. “When you try to take this issue on, it’s like touching the third rail because you have a class of trade that’s been protected since its inception.”

This echoes arguments against the protections for auto dealers by the makers of electric vehicles.

A poll and economic report commissioned by the food association, and completed last month by several UConn departments, shows an overwhelming majority of consumers – more than 80 percent – support wine sales in supermarkets. Many say they would continue to shop at their local package stores.

“Based on our survey results, it appears that allowing wine to be sold in grocery stores could substantially improve consumer welfare with limited effects on local liquor stores,” the report said.

Nonsense, said Jean Cronin, executive director of the Connecticut Package Stores Association, who’s been plying this debate since the 1980s.  Sales of alcoholic beverages have been generally flat for years as one product or another gains, then loses, favor. The market isn’t going to grow just because supermarkets join the game, she says.

Package stores would absolutely suffer, she insists, if the product that delivers their largest profit margins and their main source of walk-in trade were to move to supermarket shelves. And shoppers would have fewer choices as supermarkets carry only a few high-selling labels.

“I don’t think that consumers understand what it would do in the marketplace,” said Cronin, of Hughes & Cronin Public Affairs Strategies, whose late husband, Carroll Hughes, fought erosion of package stores’ powers as head of the association until his death in 2021.

Under the concept now bubbling up, with no bill language yet written, grocery stores that now sell beer would be allowed to seek a permit for wine. That’s regulated by the state Department of Consumer Protection, which has a list of some 800-plus grocery beer locations. Basically, food must be their main offering.

This is a vintage battle from the ‘80s that never fully went away. It enjoyed a great year in 2012, when package stores lost the fight against Sunday sales but kept their exclusive selling rights.

It came up again in 2021 with a bill pushed by wine-makers, represented by the Connecticut Vineyard and Winery Association. The Connecticut Food Association didn’t think the time was right, with Covid still raging and a limited legislative session.

This time, they’re rolling out all the barrels – in part because of the pressures supermarkets now face. “The pandemic has had a lasting impact on the way people shop,” Pesce said, and that means they’re looking to shop in fewer stores.

They have signs in stores such as Big Y directing customers to the website, which has collected the names of 6,000 supporters so far. Their social media tagline: “Red, White and Food” – with its image of wine pairings and patriotism.

Not to be outdone, the package store association is already working the issue hard with lawmakers, countering every point the supermarkets make – and using their local muscle. The average state House district has eight package stores and the average Senate district has 33, and I promise you, few of them sit out these debates.

Members of the newly formed Indian American Package Store Association of Connecticut – many owners are from the South Asian nation – have  created a website,, with its own social media campaign and tagline: “Wine: Where and Why.”

This battle features a lot of subtle flavors and varietals, such as whether the state can, or should, require supermarkets to carry a selection of local, Connecticut-made wines; whether package stores should be allowed to sell items now in supermarkets, which they can’t now do; whether supermarkets could police sales to people under 21 (as they do for beer); and whether states that have added supermarket sales in recent years have seen deep harm to package stores.

Pesce downplays the threat. “We would probably carry a limited variety and less of the high-end wine,” he said.

Hey, maybe we’d see the controversial “Two-Buck Chuck” at Trader Joe’s.  But would supermarkets, with a full aisle of wine, carry fewer of the exotic items I want as a foodie? Pesce says that wouldn’t happen.

Sen. James Maroney, D-Milford, co-chairman of the General Law Committee, said we’ll just have to see how lawmakers lean after a hearing. “Big ideas take a few years sometimes,” he told me Tuesday.

How long can the package stores keep supermarkets out of their business? With consumers wanting the option, it feels like the inevitable sweep of history — but when? Raise a toast to the great wine debate of 2023 at a state Capitol near you.

The original article can be found at CT Insider.