Sunday, October 15, 2006

Question One: I love drinkin'!

I was just reading an opinion piece over at the Sentinel & Enterprise web site dealing with Question 1 on the November ballot and figured I might as well take this opportunity to address some ballot questions.

This proposal in a (very small) nutshell states:
This proposed law would allow local licensing authorities to issue licenses for food stores to sell wine.
The Sentinel opines it's a good thing, apparently mostly because they are "believers in the value of free markets" and don't see any harm from it. Local liquor stores understandably oppose it, and the argument they seem to be using is that it would make it easier for underage drinkers to get access to wine. To me, that argument seems pretty absurd. Everyone knows teenagers love a good glass of Merlot, but I just don't see their argument being backed up by reality. Additionally, their scare tactics (hell, the website linked above has a picture of a wrecked car on the front page) are going to just make most people laugh at them.

The small liquor stores have a better argument they should be using though, and it's that this proposal benefits big business while harming small shops.

Supermarkets can and do already sell wine and other alcohol. However, per Mass General Law:
No person, firm, corporation, association, or other combination of persons,[...] shall be granted, in the aggregate, more than three such licenses in the commonwealth.
What this means is that with some exceptions larger chains like Hannaford and Stop & Shop are limited to three liquor licenses statewide.

So it's not really a supermarket vs liquor store argument, it's a big chain vs independent store argument.

Frankly, I don't even really know how I'll vote on this one. I'm reluctant to support big corporations over local businesses, but Massachusetts has some pretty absurd liquor laws, and the more that can be done to chip away at those the better. It's not hard to predict that if this passes the next step will be to add beer to the list of approved liquors for "food stores", and possibly an attempt at harder liquors after that. More availability=more consumer choice, which in my eyes is a good thing.

I expect it to pass with no problem. Not based on any polling (I haven't looked at any), just based on the fact that most people prefer convenience. It is worth a bit more thought than you might have at first glance, though. It could sound the death knell for some local businesses, which is never a good thing. But it certainly has potential benefits as well.

Obviously, decide based on what matters most to you. I'm voting "Maybe".


Brian said...

this question seems like such a waste of time to me. i mean aren't there some other important issues that the state can be handling? flag burning or something?

of course the arguments against it are absurd...and you don't see picketing at convenience store because they sell cigarettes do you?

the bigger decision is if we want to bow to obvious lobby power and relinquish another chip in the local vs. mega contest.

nice to stumble upon your blog here - the more discussion regarding our city - THE BETTER.


Don't Tailgate Your Neighbors

thoughtful said...

You make an excellent point. I hadn't considered the local vs mega angle.

Supporting local business is important to me as I think it's much better for our local economy.


Ultimately, it's the local municipality that actually grants these licenses, so as long as the local authorities do a decent job at representing, local vs mega becomes less of an issue.

Brian said...

at this point i don't have much faith in the local municipality being able to deny a large retailer.

when i saw Dinatale frothing at the mouth regarding a potential "big box" store (that fell through) on John Fitch, it became clear that the issue of supporting local may not be as common or as accepted as i would have thought (or wanted). i feel like it will be a given that the big chains will win out in this if it passes.

somehow the message needs to get across that mega is not a solution we should be looking at - whether for wine or for housewares or for hardware. mega is common. quaint, charming, local is unique now - let's make our mark.


Don't Tailgate Your Neighbors

matt said...

I've got to agree with brian on this. While it would be great if those doing the licensing actually gave preference to local businesses over chains, I have my doubts about that happening.

Generally any sort of deregulation tends to benefit the big chains. They have the bulk purchasing power to make things very unpleasant for local shops.

Why the "no on 1" groups don't push this angle instead of the fear-based one is beyond me. Tie a yes vote to a pro-corporations stance, appeal to the anti-Wal-Mart crowd, and you'll get a lot more support than trying to scare people with fake safety concerns.

thoughtful said...

Well, I did hear (likely through the sentinel) that Leominster is very tight with it's licenses and that they did prefer to award them to local businesses.

That was in reference to on-site licenses, and specifically about how city council would prefer to see them go to mom-and-pop restaurants, rather than franchises and especially not bars.

Like our new TGI Friday's? It's right across from our new Chili's and right next to our new Olive Garden.

I'm sure they'll all serve booze., point taken.

Susan M. said...

My grocery store already sells wine so at first blush, I was thinking I'd be a yes vote, but I didn't understand the whole deal.

The mega vs local argument makes much more sense then the stuff they're talking about on TV. I think I'm in the maybe column too, until I learn more.

Brian said...

So what are the up-sides of this question? More places to buy wine?

More liquor outlets in Fitchburg/Leominster = not needed. They should go in the "got enough of them" column - along with pizza places, donut shops, convenience stores, gas stations, etc...


Don't Tailgate Your Neighbors

matt said...

The primary upside that will affect most people's vote I imagine will simply be the prospect of going to one store instead of two when buying food and wine. It's convenience more than availability, because there certainly are plenty of places you can buy wine already if that's all you're after.

It could also be seen as a step towards more relaxed liquor laws in general (which you may or may not support).

Brian said...

i guess i just don't see it as that hard or inconvenient to go to two stores if i want something that is not in one of the stores. i mean yeah, if Kappy's started selling local produce i would be psyched, but i am just as happy to go to Stillman.

Once they repealed the blue-laws, i think we got a to a good point. i don't see what else needs to be relaxed in their current state... well, maybe drive though liquor stores would be useful. can we get that ballott question for next time?

matt said...


It's not difficult to go to two stores, of course. But many people are going to be reading this question for the first time when they're in the voting booth. On the first read, I think most people (myself included) would say "sounds good, that'll be convenient!" and vote yes based on that.

It's not the best argument for voting for something, but it's what I expect most people will be basing their "yes" vote on.

As for relaxing liquor laws being positive, it depends on your perspective. I've had several friends who grew up in the south who considered our liquor laws draconian. Admittedly, some of these friends were alcoholics, so perhaps they're not the best examples to use...