Geissler’s Supermarket expands its reach in CT with the purchase of Simsbury grocer

A local supermarket chain is expanding its network of stores. Geissler’s Supermarket will acquire Simsbury grocery store Fitzgerald’s Foods, though the store will keep its name.

Geissler’s officials announced Friday morning that they hopes to retain the entire staff of Fitzgerald’s Foods, including its current owners, under a purchase agreement that is expected to close in mid-June.

The deal will expand on Geissler’s group of seven stores across Connecticut and Massachusetts, including in Granby, East Windsor, Somers, and South Windsor.

Fitzgerald’s Foods is currently independently owned and operated by Bryan and Sandy DeVoe, who purchased it from the Fitzgerald family in July 2010.

Geissler’s spokesperson Carol Carlson said Friday afternoon that the sale came about due to an existing close relationship between the two companies, including sharing the same wholesaler.

Carlson said Fitzgerald’s Foods will stay as Fitzgerald’s Foods once the sale is completed, “until or if ever comes a time to change it.”

Geissler’s plans to “bring the best of Fitzgerald’s and best of Geissler’s together to create a better shopping experience,” Carlson said.

Bob Rybick, president and CEO of Geissler’s, said in a statement that Fitzgerald’s Foods has a long history in Simsbury that Geissler’s plans to uphold.

“It was clear, early on, that we share the same commitment to fresh, quality foods and locally produced products as the DeVoes,” Rybick said. “We plan to continue those great traditions, and learn from their expertise in fresh to enhance both Fitzgerald’s and all the Geissler’s stores in the future.”

Geissler’s acquisition comes at a time of transformation for two of the company’s existing stores. The Geissler’s in Granby celebrated its grand reopening on May 4, adding on a new kitchen and expanded bakery and deli departments, while the South Windsor supermarket and its immediate surroundings could receive a major facelift as a development is planned for the plaza it occupies.

Carlson said the landlord of its South Windsor store and the developer looking to revitalize the property are working with the town on redevelopment plans.

“In the meantime, we will continue to support the South Windsor community,” Carlson said.

Original article found at CT Insider.

Big Y’s Store Remodels Focus On Sustainability First

Big Y has been making significant strides in enhancing its stores across the region, opening 26 locations since 2022. These remodels align with the company’s broader strategy to focus on sustainability and modernize its retail spaces to create a more enjoyable shopping experience.

The new store design incorporates modern elements to inspire guests and reflect each store’s local community. The remodeled stores have been strategically laid out to benefit shoppers and associates, streamlining operations and creating a more pleasant environment. They have also added major energy efficiency upgrades across Connecticut and Massachusetts.

“Whenever we remodel or build new stores, we always try to upgrade to energy efficient equipment, motors, refrigeration systems, etc.,” said Maggie D’Amour, senior manager of environmental social governance.

“Big Y’s commitment to sustainability and community-focused design is evident in these remodels. As we continue to invest in our stores, we aim to meet customers wherever they are, providing a modern, highly-connected shopping experience.”

Big Y has executed the following in each store it has remodeled:

  • High efficiency rooftop and refrigeration systems;
  • LED lighting interior and exterior (95 percent of stores);
  • Light dimming systems;
  • Energy Star certified equipment;
  • Building energy management systems;
  • Night curtains or glass door retrofits on open refrigerated cases;
  • High-efficiency motors;
  • Capture and utilization of waste heat;
  • Cycling anti-sweat heaters;
  • Waterless urinals;
  • Low-flow water controls on sinks; and
  • Energy-efficient hand dryers.

As a result, these stores are saving 9.3 million kilowatt-hours of electricity annually, the equivalent of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by removing 840 gasoline-powered vehicles from area roads for a year.

In addition to the remodeled storesBig Y also installed a 1.4-megawatt solar array on the rooftop of its new fresh and local distribution center. The installation is comprised of 3,100 solar panels and the renewable energy generated by the system will offset about 70 percent of the distribution center’s electric requirements.

Expanded in 2021, Big Y’s fresh and local distribution center provides local farmers and food producers with a one-stop location that saves them time and money as they don’t need to deliver to individual stores. In addition to supporting their communities, farms and other small businesses, it saves travel time, thus cutting down on greenhouse gas emissions. It also serves as a hub for all fresh fruits and vegetables throughout the year.

Over the past three years, there has been a company-wide effort to be Earth-friendly. These initiatives demonstrate the commitment to expanding solar energy adoption and addressing environmental challenges. Overall, these changes have reduced its total energy consumption by more than 17,800,000 kWh.

Original article found at the Shelby Report.

Study: 12 years after CT OK’d Sunday alcohol sales, neither supermarkets nor package stores cashed in

Sunday alcohol sales, allowed in Connecticut since 2012, benefited neither supermarkets nor package stores, UConn researchers found, feeding the ongoing debate over grocery store wine sales.

“Using nationwide data from 2004 to 2021, we find a short-term increase in beer sales post-policy change,” researchers wrote in a recently published study, “but no significant long-term economic effects on grocery and liquor stores. Our analysis also shows similar treatment effects for chain and standalone liquor retailers, suggesting limited lasting implications for the liquor retail industry’s performance and conduct after Sunday sale restrictions were lifted.”

The prohibition against selling alcohol on Sundays was one of the last of Connecticut’s puritanical Blue Laws.

The study counters package store owners’ dire predictions about beer sales lost to grocery stores on one of the week’s busiest shopping days. In 2011, when a proposal to allow Sunday sales died in the legislature, Carroll J. Hughes, lobbyist at the time for the Connecticut Package Store Association, called the decision a victory for corner stores throughout the state. Hughes told the Connecticut Post that mom-and-pop packies would have lost major business to supermarkets, forcing hundreds out of work. He also said estimates that the repeal would raise millions in added tax revenue were overstated.

“It doesn’t raise money and it certainly eliminates jobs,” Hughes said of the proposal. “I’ll lose 350 stores, probably 600 jobs in the wholesale-retail sector and we don’t need that right now, just for an experiment that somebody’s saying ‘let’s open up and try it.'”

UConn researchers, however, found “there is no statistical evidence of adverse or positive treatment effects on the long-term economic outcomes for grocery retailers and liquor stores after the policy change.”

Published in January in The Journal of Wine Economics, the study was done by Cristina Connolly, assistant professor of agriculture and resource economics in UConn’s College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources, and Ph.D. student Alyssa McDonnell, along with collaborators Sandro Steinbach from North Dakota State University, and Marcello Graziano from UConn’s Connecticut Center for Economic Analysis.

The Connecticut Food Association, an advocacy organization for grocery stores, highlighted the report on its website with the headline, “Study: If You Let People Buy Beer at Grocery Stores, the Liquor Stores Still Survive.” The organization is pressing for wine sales in grocery stores through a website, CT Wine Now, that notes 42 other states allow such sales.

The state legislature is not considering the issue in this session, but supermarket representatives across the state made a big push in 2023 to legalize the sale of wine in their stores. Ultimately, however, Connecticut’s 1,250 package store owners won the day, persuading lawmakers that wine and spirits should remain their market domain.

In an attempted compromise, the 2023 bill said no food store within 1,000 feet of an existing package store would be allowed to sell wine, and all wine in supermarkets would have to be from vineyards producing 100,000 gallons a year or less — about 43,000 cases. CT Wine Now cites the added convenience of wine sales in grocery stores and contends that people would not shop less at local liquor stores.

Advocates point to another UConn study released last year in which the Connecticut Food Association asked researchers to analyze the economic impact of allowing grocery store wine sales. The major findings, which included a household survey, were that a clear majority of almost 82 percent of the general public support grocery stores sales and that the policy would have little impact on consumers’ overall wine buying habits, UConn Today reported.

But package store owners have called the proposal a profit-grab by an industry dominated by national and multinational corporations, including Dutch-owned Stop & Shop.

“Convenience? Are you kidding me? There are package stores in 162 of the 169 towns,” Jean Cronin, a lobbyist and executive director of the Connecticut Package Store Association, said during the debate last year. “That’s a lot of access.”

About 100 package store owners and employees stood up in the hearing room as hundreds more, perhaps 500 or 600 in all, stood in the atrium downstairs, many of them from the recently formed Indian American Package Store Association of Connecticut. 

Consumers will be hurt, the liquor store representatives said, as the market-setting supermarkets look to sell just a few brands, making it unprofitable for distributors to keep offering some 50,000 varieties of wine in Connecticut stores.

“In many small towns, they are the last small business left on Main Street but this legislation could change all that,” Cronin said. “We are a fragile ecosystem.”

Original article found at CT Insider.

CT lawmakers seeking new options to work around budget cap

Despite the bipartisan praise lavished on Connecticut’s budget constraints, officials never have fully embraced them, spending hundreds of millions of dollars in recent years outside the “fiscal guardrails” — drawing from short-term sources.

But these temporary wells are running dry faster than many anticipated, setting the stage for a budget showdown this May, with funds for education, human services and health care hanging in the balance.

On one side, Gov. Ned Lamont, other moderate Democrats and most of the legislature’s Republican minority are pushing for stricter adherence to these fiscal controls.

On the other are most of Lamont’s fellow Democrats, who want to spend up to $400 million beyond official limits. But they note that besides shoring up core programs, this still would leave finances projected in the black — and poised to further reduce pension debt.

Options for working around the spending cap are shrinking

“I am not going to ask my caucus to vote for a budget that does not have $300 million to $400 million of extra spending,” House Speaker Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, told The Connecticut Mirror on Thursday.

But that’s not an easy task, given that the preliminary $26 billion budget for 2024-25 — the one that legislators want to enhance — already exceeds the state spending cap by $30 million. In other words, there’s no room to add even $1. And that plan only boosts General Fund spending by 2% above current levels.

Further complicating matters, Ritter’s comment came one day after Lamont’s administration reduced projections for this fiscal year’s operating surplus to just $109 million or one-half of 1% of the General Fund. Eroding sales tax receipts and cost overruns in human service agencies have steadily whittled down the $400 million cushion lawmakers built into the budget when they adopted it last June.

Why does this year’s surplus matter for next year’s budget?

Legislators were counting on that $400 million since carrying operating surplus from one fiscal year into the next is one of the chief tools used to circumvent the spending cap. Because those carry-forward dollars technically were appropriated in a prior year, they don’t count against future cap calculations when they are spent.

The legislature carried about $280 million from last fiscal year’s operating surplus into the current budget. That plan also was backed by $544.3 million of the nearly $2.8 billion in flexible pandemic relief Connecticut’s state government received from Congress in 2021 through the American Rescue Plan Act.

But those ARPA funds, which aren’t subject to the spending cap and are the second tool legislators use to maneuver around the guardrails, have nearly been exhausted.

Lamont’s budget office estimated in early February that only $55.7 million in previously allocated ARPA could be re-directed into the next budget, although that number might be slightly larger. The administration is preparing an updated tally and has asked all agencies to report on unspent funds by March 25.

Still, a $109 million surplus and about $56 million in guaranteed ARPA represents about $165 million that could be added to the next state budget without violating cap rules, far below the $300 million to $400 million legislative leaders insist is needed to address a plethora of issues.

Legislative leaders say available funds under cap aren’t enough

Public colleges and universities, which have been big beneficiaries of funds from these temporary sources in recent years, are projecting significant deficits after July 1, despite tuition and fee increases already ordered at community colleges, regional state universities and at the University of Connecticut.

The private, nonprofit agencies that deliver the bulk of state-sponsored social services estimate they lose $480 million annually because government payments haven’t matched inflation since 2007.

Legislators also want to boost funding for a child care industry that hasn’t fully recovered financially from the worst of the coronavirus pandemic as well as for various health care programs that are facing increasing demand.

And despite the shrinking operating surplus, that doesn’t mean the state finances are heading for a deficit. They may not have gotten worse at all.

Though the operating surplus has dropped from $400 million to $109 million, that’s not the only fiscal safety net Connecticut has.

A second program, which forces the state to save a portion of volatile income and business tax receipts, is expected to collect $480 million this fiscal year. Some legislators expect that number to grow in late April when analysts adjust projections based on income tax filings.

Most of that savings program involves capital gains and other investment-related earnings, and the markets have risen considerably since the fiscal year began.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed Thursday at 39,781 points, up 15.7% since last July, while the S&P [Standard & Poor’s] 500 is up 17.8% over the same period, according to marketwatch.com.

“If you look at the overall picture, it’s nowhere near as dire as if you look at isolated pieces,” said Senate President Pro Tem Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven.

But there’s still a problem: While the operating surplus can be carried forward to help next year’s budget, the volatility savings program cannot, except under special conditions.

Even if its potential growth in April outstrips the reduction in the operating surplus, the volatility savings program can’t help education, health care or social services. Under the guardrails system, the funds must be used to reduce pension debt or to increase the rainy day fund.

Connecticut already has a record-setting $3.3 billion budget reserve and has paid down an extra $7.7 billion in pension debt since 2020. Over the past four years, 21% of all revenues — excluding those assigned to special budget funds — have gone into the pensions.

Many of Lamont’s fellow Democrats say this system over-prioritizes debt reduction, and that they don’t want to stop saving — but just seek a more balanced approach.

Lamont and GOP say CT can’t lose sight of long-term challenges

Lamont and Republican legislators counter, though, that Connecticut is not out of the fiscal woods from a long-term perspective.

The state failed to save properly for pensions for more than seven decades prior to 2011, forfeiting billions of dollars in potential investment earnings — a gap current and future taxpayers must plug. The state’s unfunded pension obligations remain huge, topping $37 billion entering this year, according to the administration.

What happens if the global economy slides into recession next year, or if Washington begins to pull more funding for states back to pre-pandemic levels, as it did this past year with winter heating assistance, Republican state legislative leaders have asked.

If Connecticut Democrats increase spending as pandemic grants are exhausted, it will be even harder to sustain those investments if future challenges arise, said House Minority Leader Vincent J. Candelora, R-North Branford.

“The fundamental question that Democrats always seem to ignore around spending is sustainability, and that’s why the caps are there,” Candelora said. “If you can’t keep up with those spending levels year to year, you’re putting yourself in a long-term deficit. … This is the behavior we saw 20 years ago and we’re seeing today.”

“One thing that we can’t do is play fiscal gimmicks with these guardrails,” added Senate Minority Leader Stephen Harding. “We’ll be in far worse shape in the long run.”

The Lamont administration also hasn’t shown interest in carving out new ways to work around the cap.

“Any additional state funds that the General Assembly provides in any FY 25 budget adjustment will need to be consistent with a balanced budget that complies with all statutory and constitutional caps,” Chris Collibee, Lamont’s budget spokesman.

Democrats insist that whatever they do will absolutely be legal. The question, for some, is whether it will comply with the intent of the guardrails system.

The preliminary budget for 2024-25 has a built-in operating surplus of $300 million and expects to save another $450 million through the volatility program. Democrats say they don’t want to tap anywhere close to all of that $750 million projected cushion.

They’re exploring an “intercept” of revenue, an accounting maneuver that technically assigns a portion of some revenue source — tax receipts, interest earnings, fees — outside of the budget, as well as an expense that these intercepted revenues would cover. When the spending occurs outside the budget, it no longer counts against the spending cap.

Legislators and governors have used this technique before. A revenue intercept of roughly $150 million to $200 million, coupled with remaining ARPA funds and this year’s $109 million operating surplus, might be enough to resolve the next state budget before the regular legislative session ends on May 8.

To those who say this is a gimmick, Ritter’s response is: Check your history.

Democratic and Republican legislators both gave ground at the end of a nine-month-long budget debate seven years ago to establish unprecedented budget constraints.

“What has made Connecticut move since 2017 has been the compromises, the give and takes,” he said.

Some Democratic legislators insist closer to $1 billion needs to be added to the next budget, Ritter said, adding that caucus leaders, trying to compromise, already have shaved that down to $300 million to $400 million. But that’s as far as they will go.

“If people don’t like what we have, and don’t have better ideas,” the speaker said, “we will pass it [anyway] and see what they do with it.”

Original article found at CT Mirror.

Upside, Price Chopper/Market 32 Increase Shopper Benefits

Upside, a digital marketplace for brick-and-mortar grocers, has established a long-term agreement and an enhanced tech integration with Northeast grocery store chain Price Chopper/Market32. This move comes after their initial partnership resulted in 500,000 incremental transactions from 50,000 customers.

“Thanks to Upside, we’ve made significant progress in attracting new customers and encouraging our existing ones to consolidate their food shopping with us,” said Sean Weiss, Price Chopper/Market 32’s VP of marketing. “Deepening our partnership stands to further accelerate that growth.”

Upside and Price Chopper/Market 32 aim to build on their previous success with the rollout of Check-in, an new receipt-less experience designed to bolster the impact of the chain’s AdvantEdge loyalty program by improving user reconciliation rates.

Further, Upside’s recently implemented direct data feed is expected to enhance Price Chopper/Market 32’s loyalty program. According to initial findings, Upside has effectively converted 25% of non-loyalty Upside users into AdvantEdge members who now make around one additional visit per month and spend more incrementally.

“In the face of heightened competition and consumer challenges stemming from inflation, Price Chopper/Market 32 sought concrete methods to strengthen its sales strategy,” noted Tyler Renaghan, VP of grocery at Washington, D.C.-based Upside. “Our partnership with them has proven mutually beneficial, enhancing both the company’s bottom line and consumer satisfaction. By introducing unique, profitable promotions, the collaboration has boosted Price Chopper/Market 32’s sales while helping value-conscious consumers navigate an uncertain economic climate.”

Upside also conducted a survey of its users regarding the partnership. The findings showed that the customers not only became enthusiastic promoters of the store, but also tended to spend more and said that they would continue shopping at Price Chopper/Market 32 because of its partnership with Upside.

More than 30 million people have access to Upside promotions through its platform and partner apps. According to the company, it has delivered to retailers more than $1.5 billion in incremental profit so far.

Schenectady, N.Y.-based Price Chopper/Market 32 operates 130 Price Chopper and Market 32 grocery stores and one Market Bistro, employing 16,000 associates in New York, Vermont, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire. Parent company Northeast Grocery Inc. is No. 45 on The PG 100, Progressive Grocer’s 2023 list of the top food and consumables retailers in North America.

Original article found at Progressive Grocer.

Lamont’s plan keeps CT budget within guardrails, pays down $500M in debt

Gov. Ned Lamont stayed well within Connecticut’s fiscal guardrails Wednesday, recommending a $26.1 billion budget that erases $500 million in bonded debt and invests in child care and education while largely holding the line in most other places.

The spending plan for the fiscal year starting July 1 increases base aid for public colleges and universities but reduces overall support despite warnings that it would leave higher education institutions in deficit and forced to trim staff and programs.

The package bolsters K-12 education, though not as quickly as legislators want, scaling back planned increases for magnet, charter and vocational schools. It also bolsters a planned increase in Education Cost Sharing grants from $68.5 million to $74.2 million and keeps universal school meals afloat for another academic year.

Lamont would create several new posts to monitor health care quality and finances but declined to recommend increases for the hundreds of private nonprofit agencies that deliver the bulk of state-sponsored social services. The administration also wants to tighten Medicaid eligibility on the HUSKY program and require some poor adults to acquire 100% subsidized coverage through the state’s health insurance exchange.

And while the plan doesn’t include any major tax cuts — following two years of hefty reductions — the administration is pitching a new plan to try to secure hundreds of millions of disputed tax dollars from Connecticut residents who work remotely for businesses in New York.

The governor’s proposal would boost spending 3.1% over the current spending level and add just $89 million to the preliminary, $26 billion budget he and lawmakers adopted last June for the 2024-25 fiscal year. And much of that spending added onto the preliminary budget involves a nearly $80 million increase in the required state contributions to public-sector pension funds.

But while Lamont repeatedly urged lawmakers recently to embrace Connecticut’s spending cap and other programs that have secured big surpluses, his own plan relies on a commonly used end-run around the guardrails.

Lawmakers often carry surplus funds from one fiscal year to the next because these “carryforwards” then can be spent without counting against future cap limits. Lawmakers already planned to carry $95 million from this fiscal year’s $645 million surplus into 2024-25. The governor would boost that to $140 million.

“For the first time in a generation, the state of Connecticut is not lurching from one financial crisis to the next,” the administration wrote in its budget introduction. “The state’s financial position is stable, and, unlike other states, we are not facing deficits that would result in deep cuts in spending or substantial increases in taxes.”

“Today we have more people working, more people starting businesses, more people joining labor unions with better pay and better benefits, more of our graduates staying in Connecticut, and more out-of-staters wanting to move here,” Lamont said in his budget address to the legislature.

The governor drew mixed reviews Wednesday from legislative leaders.

House Majority Leader Jason Rojas, D-East Hartford, said Lamont offered many good ideas but added he was disappointed not to see more funding for higher education. “We’re trying to fund a system that was built for Connecticut 50 years ago,” he said. “We really need to do a little bit of recalibrating.”

Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly, R-Stratford, predicted much of Connecticut’s middle class would appreciate Lamont’s adherence to the spending cap and other budget controls.

“Those guardrails have really brought fiscal stability to the budget,” Kelly said. “That signals to people who create jobs that Connecticut’s a place to do business because you have a stable financial picture.”

House Minority Leader Vincent J. Candelora, R-North Branford, said “overall I’ve found the budget to be reasonable,” but added House Republicans still believe government can afford to provide additional state tax relief – and that many families still need it.

Candelora’s caucus called last week for a new state income tax deduction for households with children, and for a modest reduction in the payroll tax that supports the paid Family and Medical Leave program.

Transportation program debt

The fiscal guardrails have helped state government since 2017 to amass a $3.3 billion rainy day fund and pay down an extra $7.7 billion in pension debt.

But Lamont also has been accused of accumulating too many surplus dollars when it comes to the budget’s $2.1 billion Special Transportation Fund.

This subset of the state budget fund is on pace to close $241 million or 11% in surplus when the fiscal year ends June 30, according to Lamont’s budget office.

And it finished the 2022-23 fiscal year with a 15% surplus, equal to $277 million, according to final numbers from the state comptroller’s office. And that was despite a 13-month gasoline tax holiday that returned about $330 million to motorists. Most of that cost, $240 million, occurred during the 2022-23 fiscal year.

The administration estimates the STF’s reserves — the fund that holds all its annual surpluses — will total $911 million after this fiscal year, a tally that exceeds more than 42% of the entire STF.

The transportation fund is supported by two fuel taxes, a portion of the sales tax and a recently added highway mileage levy on commercial trucks.

Republicans have accused the Democratic governor of hoarding too much revenue and urged him to repeal the highway mileage tax.

Construction industries and trades have urged Lamont and the state Department of Transportation to launch more capital projects. The STF funds DOT operations and pays the debt service on the annual state borrowing that, coupled with federal grants, finances repairs to Connecticut’s highways, bridges and rail lines.

Lamont’s budget does assume annual borrowing for capital work will grow from $875 million this fiscal year to $1 billion in 2024-25.

But he also would take $500 million from the STF reserve and use it to reduce Connecticut’s more than $7.4 billion in outstanding transportation bonding debt.

With more than $80 billion in unfunded pension and retiree health care benefits and bonded debt combined, Connecticut is one of the most indebted states, on a per capita basis, in the nation.

The administration estimates that wiping out this much bonded debt at once will reduce debt service costs by $26 million next fiscal year and by roughly $60 million in 2025-26.

“This proposal builds on Connecticut’s recent budgetary successes by leveraging our current financial position to pay down transportation debt now and generate years of savings,” said state Treasurer Erick Russell, who crafted the debt reduction plan in cooperation with the Lamont administration. “This plan will strengthen the [transportation] fund and leave the state well-positioned to take on transportation projects essential to our economic growth and the quality of life of our residents.”

Lamont’s budget also assumes Connecticut will borrow $1 billion for transportation capital projects next fiscal year, a major jump from the $875 million in financing estimated this year.

But the administration has dangled higher investments before and not delivered.

This fiscal year, for example, it also projected $1 billion in borrowing, but that projection has since gone down by $125 million.

The administration projected $1.2 billion in 2022-23 and borrowed $830 million; and projected $875 million the year before that — and borrowed $500 million.

Connecticut issued an annual average of $725 million in transportation bonds between 2015 and 2018 under Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, according to debt reports from the state treasurer’s office. During Lamont’s first term, the annual average ticked upward just 2.6%, reaching an average of $744 million — even though STF revenues grew 22% over those four years.

But the third year has just begun on a five-year federal program to invest $1.2 trillion in the state’s transportation projects, and construction industries and trades both said Wednesday that Lamont can’t afford to wait any longer to get significantly more projects underway.

“Everyone knows infrastructure investments are the highest return on investments,” said Don Shubert, president of the Connecticut Construction Industry Association, who added the state should be borrowing and investing closer to $1.5 billion annually in transportation projects. “And failing to maximize all available federal funding and failing to invest at this point is a tremendous, missed opportunity for the state.”

Nate Brown, president of International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 478, said hitting the $1 billion borrowing target isn’t sufficient.

“We have to exceed the target,” he said. “We have the opportunity of a lifetime. There’s people and contractors who are more than ready to go.”

Travis Woodward, president of CSEA-SEIU Local 2001 and a supervising engineer with the state DOT, said the department has too many vacancies in engineering and other key professional posts. “We desperately need to hire before the next retirement wave hits,” he said.

Battling NY for tax dollars

Lamont’s new budget doesn’t include any major tax cuts — which was expected given the huge reductions he and the legislature approved in each of the past two sessions.

Low- and middle-income households are expected to save about $460 million next fiscal year from the largest income tax cut in state history. The changes, approved last year, include both rate reductions and several enhanced credits.

The governor did recommend about $3.5 million in fee reductions, removing initial application fees in understaffed fields including nurses, teachers and child care workers.

But the administration hopes to bolster the state’s coffers by as much as $200 million annually in future years, by challenging controversial “Convenience of the Employer” rules in New York state.

Connecticut officials argue that New York rules unfairly require many Connecticut residents who work remotely from home for New York-based employers to pay taxes to the Empire State.

Lamont is urging residents to challenge the New York rules in court. Those that are successful and receive a refund from New York would then owe taxes to Connecticut.

Lamont proposes to add a 50% income tax credit to those challengers and to waive any penalties Connecticut could claim against them.

A spokeswoman for N.Y. Gov. Kathy Hochul could not be reached for comment Wednesday morning.

Federal COVID relief

Lamont’s proposal also hinges on repurposing $55.7 million in unspent federal COVID-relief grants, which provide great fiscal flexibility because they can be spent outside of the cap system. But the shifting of these American Rescue Plan Act funds is expected to spark many questions from legislators, specifically: How much money have state agencies that received federal grants left unspent?

All states must designate how these funds will be used and must spend them by Dec. 31. Any entity hired by a state with ARPA dollars can spend them as late as Dec. 31, 2026.

Legislators also are expected to press Lamont over how much of this fiscal year’s surplus can be used to support the next state budget. Even though the governor recommended boosting the planned “carryforward” from $95 million to $140 million, his fellow Democrats in the House and Senate majorities have suggested using between $200 million and $300 million to support numerous initiatives in health care, social services and education.

Lamont also may face criticism for sweeping more than $16 million from a program that shares a portion of state sales tax receipts with cities and towns. The administration says this transfer would not impact municipal grants in the upcoming fiscal year, but it was not clear Wednesday whether that could trigger challenges a few years down the road.

Other changes

Lamont also proposed folding the Connecticut Port Authority into the Connecticut Airport Authority, consolidating the management of the state’s harbors and aviation facilities under one umbrella. 

David Kooris, the current chairman of the Connecticut Port Authority, mentioned the potential merger between the two quasi-public agencies during a meeting last fall, but little has been mentioned publicly about the plan since then.

The Port Authority has been an issue for the Lamont administration for years, largely because of the escalating cost of the redevelopment of the State Pier in New London. That project, which is now reaching completion, is meant to transform the port facility into a launching pad for offshore wind projects in the Atlantic. But the cost of the project ballooned from an estimated $93 million to more than $300 million. 

The Lamont administration also proposed restructuring payments into the pension plan for state judges to save $14.3 million next fiscal year. Connecticut restructured payments into the state employees’ pension in 2017 and 2019 and contributions to the teachers’ pension in 2019.

The governor would make several small adjustments to economic development initiatives, including an additional $1 million for the state tourism office’s marketing efforts. That additional support could generate an estimated $389 million in local spending by visitors to the state, according to the proposal.

The budget adds $280,000 to expand labor department efforts to coordinate more apprenticeships and $100,000 to create a career center within the state’s technical school system, to be situated at Vinal Technical High School in Middletown. And it maintains the current level of funding for various job training programs including the Office of Workforce Strategy, the Building Trades Training Proram and the Manufacturing Pipeline Initiative

The CT Youth Employment Program – which expected $10 million last year, but received only $5 million after late-stage negotiations among lawmakers – will not see its budget increase under Lamont’s proposal this year.

Original article found at CT Mirror.

Study: If You Let People Buy Beer at Grocery Stores, the Liquor Stores Still Survive

Repealing “blue laws” and allowing Sunday alcohol sales has much less of a negative effect than doomsayers predicted.

That’s according to a new research paper by Cristina Connolly and Alyssa McDonnell of the University of Connecticut, Marcello Graziano of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, and Sandro Steinbach of North Dakota State University. The study, published in the Journal of Wine Economics by Cambridge University Press, “examine[d] the impact of repealing Sunday blue laws on alcohol sales and retail competition, focusing on Connecticut’s 2012 policy change allowing Sunday beer sales in grocery stores.”

Connecticut repealed its long-standing prohibition on Sunday alcohol sales in 2012—more than a century after the law was introduced and three decades after the Connecticut Supreme Court deemed most of the state’s other Sunday sales prohibitions unconstitutional. Liquor stores would also be allowed to open on Sundays, in addition to letting grocery stores sell beer on that day.

The repeal of blue laws is not without its critics. According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s MIT Tech Talk newspaper, a 2008 study found that “repealing America’s blue laws not only decreased church attendance, donations and spending, but it also led to a rise in alcohol and drug use among people who had been religious.”

Connecticut’s repeal was opposed at the time by liquor store owners themselves, who expressed concern about everything from the “social costs” of more alcohol sales to the extra expense incurred from being open an extra day.

“Proprietors of liquor stores in Connecticut and store association lobbyists claimed that allowing Sunday sales would negatively impact their livelihoods,” write the authors of the new study. “Not only would they need to pay operating costs for an extra day of the week, but there was also a concern that consumers would shift to purchasing beer at grocery stores as Sunday is one of the most popular grocery shopping days. Specifically, Connecticut’s liquor store association claimed that, as a direct result of this policy, liquor stores would lose sales and reduce employment, or close.”

The authors examined Connecticut’s sales figures for grocery and liquor stores both before and after the repeal, using other states without Sunday alcohol laws as a control group. They found “no evidence of negative impacts on beer sales in liquor stores.”

“Despite repeated claims by liquor store associations,” the report concludes, “repealing these laws did not harm liquor stores, suggesting that it is possible to repeal Sunday blue laws without negatively impacting smaller businesses.” Incidentally, the study also contradicted claims by grocery store lobbyists, who said Sunday alcohol sales would “have large, positive economic impacts.”

The same data also provides comfort for those who worry that being able to buy alcohol one additional day per week would lead to an explosion in alcoholism and addiction. “Our estimates indicate that repealing these laws significantly increased beer sales at grocery and liquor stores directly after the policy shift, but these effects disappeared afterward.”

“There is an initial bump in sales, possibly due to the novelty of the policy,” they found. “This impact levels off after the initial month, with no discernible effect on sales after the seventh week.”

As it turns out, the repeal benefited both consumers and vendors while proving the doomsayers wrong. But it was also a net positive for economic liberty as another piece of Prohibition falls by the wayside.

Original article found at Reason.

What are the most popular grocery chains in Connecticut?

As Big Y World Class Market pounces on vacant Amazon Fresh storefronts in Westport and Brookfield, new data shows the Massachusetts chain is outclassing many competitors across Connecticut on one major criterion — repeat visits by regulars.

Big Y led Connecticut in December for the average frequency at which individual shoppers returned to stores during the month, according to Placer.ai data on 265 stores statewide reviewed by Hearst Connecticut Media. In 15 of 26 cities and towns where Big Y faces competition from other chains tracked by Placer.ai, Big Y led those markets for the frequency of repeat visitors.

Big Y is now capitalizing in Connecticut with a new store planned for Middletown as well as the Westport and Brookfield locations in the works. It is one of several chains that have been expanding in Connecticut by purchasing stores or opening new ones, to include ShopRiteWhole Foods MarketCaraluzzi’sFood Bazaar and Aldi.

While having closed stores in Bridgeport and Greenwich of late, Stop & Shop remains the dominant chain in Connecticut with more than 85 locations. For December, Placer.ai tracked some 3.25 million people visiting Stop & Shop locations in Connecticut, some doing so from neighboring towns in New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island where they live. In the aggregate across all its Connecticut stores, Stop & Shop drew more than double the number the shoppers at the next two busiest chains in Connecticut in Big Y and ShopRite, which drew about 1.3 million people each.

While Stew Leonard’s stores in Norwalk and Danbury led Connecticut for shoppers in December, ShopRite’s Connecticut Avenue store in Norwalk was tops statewide for total visits, due to customers making more frequent trips there than those at the two Stew Leonard’s. Placer.ai keeps data on Stew Leonard’s Newington store behind a paywall, but a Stew Leonard’s spokesperson told CT Insider that foot traffic at the Newington store is in line the Danbury store.

Shoppers can be fickle and that applies as well to studies that attempt to gauge their loyalty. On the most recent American Customer Satisfaction Index for the grocery industry based on surveys in 2022, Trader Joe’s garnered the top score with Whole Foods Market getting the biggest gain among chains with a footprint in the Northeast. On a quarterly grocery “fidelity” index published by the location-based ad company InMarket that gauges supermarkets’ success in drawing customers to stores, the Wakefern cooperative that includes ShopRite and Price Rite Marketplace got the highest score among Northeast chains, ranking fourth overall nationally.

Placer.ai provides monthly snapshots of foot traffic at larger retail venues nationally by aggregating the locations of mobile phones, for people who bring them inside without disabling location tracking. Placer.ai data is not available free for all venues,  it provides a census of many retail centers frequented by shoppers.

Big Y stores has three of the top four stores in Connecticut for frequency of visits by the same individuals, in Monroe, Ellington and Stafford which led the state on that front. Of the 31 Connecticut supermarkets to average at least two visits by individual shoppers in December, Caraluzzi’s Georgetown Market in Wilton was the only store to crack that group besides Big Y, ShopRite and Stop & Shop.

While Big Y’s Stafford store likely ranks high due to a relatively remote location, the Monroe and Ellington stores are in relative close proximity to competing options. And Big Y leads for shopper repeat visits in several highly competitive areas to include Torrington, where Big Y is tops among a half-dozen stores tracked by Placer.ai, and in Clinton, Groton, Killingly, Newtown, Rocky Hill and Stratford where it bests two or three competitors in each locale.

But the company does not lead every town for frequency of visits, with ShopRite and Stop & Shop topping it in Shelton and Manchester, and both Stop & Shop stores in Milford beating out Big Y for visit frequency.

The Westport foray marks the first in lower Fairfield County for Big Y, where competitors along the Post Road East will include Stop & Shop, Trader Joe’s, The Fresh Market and Balducci’s.

Original article found at CT Insider.

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Grocers Grapple With Theft Issues as Year Begins

If theft and loss were among the big retail stories of 2023, this year is already shaping up to have asset protection top of mind among grocers.

On Jan. 4, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel announced felony charges in the case of stolen mPerks rewards from Meijer customers. A 22-year-old from Grand Haven, Mich., Nicholas Mui, was arrested for the theft and sale of shoppers’ account access information.

Nessel and her team contend that Mui got login credentials from a separate data breach and subsequently sold logins on the internet. Users used that account information to steal mPerks points for their own purchases. According to the AG’s office, Meijer’s infrastructure was not directly breached.

Meijer tipped off authorities to the potential crime following a series of customer complaints in spring 2023. The retailer’s corporate investigators worked with the Michigan State Policy Fraud group and the AG’s team to discover the culprit; in September, officers acting on an authorized search warrant seized more than $400,000 in cash and cryptocurrency.

A Meijer spokesperson told Progressive Grocer that that the identification and arrest of the suspect was a collaborative effort. In a written statement, the spokesperson declared, “We appreciate the efforts of the Michigan State Police and the Attorney General’s FORCE Team, in partnership with our Asset Protection team, to bring this individual to justice. This situation highlights the importance of changing passwords often and not using the same password for multiple platforms. We encourage any customer who believes they were a victim of this individual’s actions to contact Meijer customer care at 1-877-363-4537.”

Meijer took early action to deal with the effects of the alleged crime, reinstating the full balance of accrued points to affected customers. The incident was not without cost, as Nessel pointed out.

“This theft operation affected hundreds of Meijer customers and mPerks account holders, and cost the grocery chain over one million dollars,” added Nessel. “It is our belief we apprehended the main operative and driver of this sophisticated, wide-spread criminal enterprise, and I’m grateful for the partnership between my FORCE Team, the Michigan State Police, and Meijer,” she said.

In related news, credit card skimmers are also causing headaches for retailers around the country as 2024 unfolds. Recently, skimmers were found at self-checkout areas at Roche Bros. Supermarkets locations in the Boston area, including a Sudbury Farms in Needham, a Brothers Marketplace in Weston and two Roche Bros. stores in Wellesley and Natick.

This week, police in Germantown, Wis., announced that a skimming device was found at a Sendik’s store in that town near Milwaukee. Additionally, Giant Eagle confirmed that skimmers were discovered at a store in Powell, Ohio. After a thorough review, additional devices were found at four other Giant Eagle locations in Ohio.

In a news release, Giant Eagle clarified some of the security issues. “Because most customers either insert or tap their chipped cards, the vast majority of customers visiting these stores are not affected. Importantly, the only information at risk includes the payment card number and service codes,” a spokesperson wrote. Still, the grocer advised customers who patronized the stores to monitor their accounts.

Privately owned Meijer is based in Grand Rapids, Mich., and is No. 23 on The PG 100, Progressive Grocer’s 2023 list of the top food and consumables retailers in North America. PG also named the company one of its Top 10 Most Sustainable Grocers and Best Regional Grocery Chains in America. Mansfield, Mass.-based Roche Bros. operates 20 locations in the state. Established by the Balistreri family in 1926, Sendik’s operates 19 stores in the Milwaukee metro area, including Sendik’s Food Markets and convenience-oriented Fresh2 Go banners. Giant Eagle operates approximately 480 stores throughout western Pennsylvania, north central Ohio, northern West Virginia, Maryland and Indiana. The company is No. 40 on The PG 100.

Original article found at Progressive Grocer.