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Sunday Sales Has Broad Political Appeal Near Border

by Christine Stuart | May 18, 2012 7:00am
(3) Comments | Commenting has expired
Posted to: Business, Town News, Enfield, Labor, Local Politics, Taxes

Christine Stuart photo

Freshwater Package Store

Dominic Alaimo, Enfield’s Republican “Man of the Year,” said the governor’s party affiliation never mattered to him as long as he or she was willing to sign a bill allowing Sunday liquor sales. That, he said, would make him happy.

The sign outside his package store on Route 5 seems to say it all.

Alaimo is grateful he’ll be able to open his doors on Sunday, but he said he would have liked to see the legislation go further by eliminating some of the price fixing and beer territory guidelines to which he’s forced to adhere.

The state’s beer distribution territory setup was problematic a few years ago, Alaimo said, after the horrific shooting at Hartford Distributors, which is the company that delivers Alaimo’s beer. Alaimo said he was unable to restock for eight to nine days, and he was unable to get the beer from another distributor in a different part of the state because of industry rules.

Alaimo said he “almost went out of business.”

One of Alaimo’s favorite sayings is related to the end of prohibition, during which organized crime ran the liquor industry. He said when the mob got out of the liquor business, the state of Connecticut got in. Lifting the Sunday sales ban is a step in the right direction, he said, but it doesn’t go far enough.

Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy doesn’t necessarily disagree with Alaimo even though they’re at opposite ends of the political spectrum.

Malloy wanted to lift some of the pricing rules imposed on retailers, but with package store owners split over the issue the legislature decided to move forward with lifting the ban on Sunday sales and creating a task force to tackle pricing issues. Small package store owners attended a public hearing at the Capitol in February to let lawmakers know they had warmed up to the idea of Sunday sales even if it meant delaying other changes in the proposed legislation such as bulk discounts and the elimination of minimum pricing.

The bill, which the governor signed into law earlier this week, creates a task force to look at the issue of minimum pricing and other reforms that Malloy said would have made the legislation more consumer friendly.

During a ceremonial bill signing Thursday at Enfield Town Hall, Malloy said his endorsement of the measure back in January was to ensure Connecticut remains competitive with its neighboring states.

“It is literally about our ability to compete with states that have been taking money away from us on an ongoing basis,” Malloy said. “When the product is less expensive and more convenient to purchase in surrounding states you lose $570 million dollars worth of sales.”

The boost in revenue Connecticut expects to see from the measure is much smaller than the $570 million in sales that leave the state. The state is estimating it will see an annual $5.3 million boost in revenue from the legislation.

Malloy, who went on a field trip to a Massachusetts liquor store in February, was fond of comparing the price of a bottle of wine purchased there to the same bottle of wine purchased in Connecticut. He questioned why it would cost $21.99 in Massachusetts when same bottle costs $29.99 in Connecticut.

He concluded, like Alaimo, that for too long the liquor industry has been a “regulated and protected industry.”

The new law allows stores to sell beer, wine, and liquor 55 more days a year. It also allows retailers to discount up to one item a month and open on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Majority Leader Brendan Sharkey of Hamden, who also attended the ceremonial bill signing, said Rep. Kathy Tallarita of Enfield, who has championed this issue for many years, deserves a lot of the credit.

Sharkey said he meant no disrespect to the others in the room for their efforts, but he didn’t believe they would have been standing in Enfield on Thursday if it wasn’t for Tallarita.

Alaimo said the new law, which is so important to border towns like Enfield, should help Tallarita, a Democrat, get re-elected this fall. He scoffed at the mention of a primary opponent.

Sharkey, who is expected to be elected Speaker of the House next year, said part of the reason he attended Thursday’s event was to support Tallarita. As Speaker of the House, Sharkey will be in charge of the re-election campaigns for all the Democratic candidates or sitting state reps seeking a spot in the House of Representatives.

Tallarita, who was left somewhat speechless by Sharkey’s accolades, said the new law wouldn’t have been possible if Malloy hadn’t put forth such a “historic and bold” proposal.

“For me it’s never been about the alcohol. It’s always been about the fairness,” Tallarita said.

Sen. Paul Doyle, D-Wetherfield, said last year there wasn’t even enough support for a similar bill to make it out of the General Law Committee. He thinks the difference this year was the governor’s backing of the legislation.

“We’re really here today because of the leadership of the governor,” Doyle said. “Mid-January I never thought we would be here today.”

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(3) Comments

posted by: GMR | May 18, 2012  12:03pm

GMR

This was a good accomplishment, and kudos to Malloy and the others who are trying to open up the highly restrictive market.  Retailers in the middle of the state may benefit from reduced competition, but the consumers don’t, and neither do retailers near the border, who have to compete with merchants in the other states.

posted by: Lawrence | May 20, 2012  7:58am

There has been a lot of focus in the press on the financial aspects of this bill, vis-a-vis competition with other border states, what’s best for small liquor stores, etc., but I believe the overarching issue here is the REJECTION of CT’s archaic, religion-inspired blue laws.

While other, conservative U.S. states are introducing new laws or constitutional amendments based on some ignorant,  right-wing Christian interpretation of the New and Old Testaments, CT is moving AWAY from such conservative influences. And rightly so.

posted by: GMR | May 20, 2012  7:14pm

GMR

While the Sunday sales ban was indeed proposed because of religious concerns, it is kept due to the cartel nature of the liquor store owners, not to any type of religious belief.  Connecticut has more restrictive sales on alcohol than almost all other states.

Rather, this is about a law that’s pro-free marketing winning, defeating a structure that’s pro-business.

Most people have this conception that being pro-free enterprise is being pro-business.  While there can be overlap between these two positions, they can also be diametrically opposed, as established businesses hate competition. That’s what drives much regulation, usually wrapped in some pro-consumer language that’s anything but.