Newark Lawmaker Calls for Supermarkets to Sell Wine and Beer; Assembly Bill Would Finally Update 1962 Liquor Law

A coalition of supermarket owners and shoppers are lauding a bill introduced in the state Legislature calling for desperately-needed reforms to the state’s outdated liquor laws, preventing the large majority of supermarkets from selling wine and beer. 

The bill, A. 1727, is now before the Assembly Regulatory Oversight Committee. It was introduced by Assembly Majority Leader Louis Greenwald (D-Camden) and Assemblywoman L. Grace Spencer (D-Newark), with co-sponsor Assemblywoman Shavonda E. Sumter (D-Paterson)

This is the latest effort of Greenwald to pass this legislation, which was heavily-debated in the waning days of the last legislative session, which ended January 11. Senior leadership showed strong interest in the bill, but were consumed by a slew of last-minute legislation.

Greenwald is focused on passing the bill in this legislation session, as many of his colleagues recognize the state’s liquor laws have not been updated since 1962. That law restricts entities to a limit of two liquor licenses, therefore preventing supermarkets from selling beer, wine and spirits.

According to the “Retailers for Responsible Liquor Licensing” coalition, there are at least 45 states that permit beer to be sold in supermarkets, while 33 states allow both wine and beer to be sold. Other states have no regulations on beer, wine or spirits sold at food retailers.

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New Jersey inches one step closer to modern liquor laws with A1727, now before the Assembly.

“Just as many other states have done, this legislation would gradually raise New Jersey’s plenary cap of two licenses per person or corporate entity over the course of 10 years, which will provide greater consumer choice and convenience when purchasing beer, wine and spirits,” Greenwald said.

“Now more than ever, our economic competitiveness depends on our willingness to enact common sense policy reforms, cut red-tape, and modernize our laws,” the Majority Leader said. “Because of our outdated liquor laws, New Jersey can no longer be competitive in a one-stop-shop market where consumers demand greater convenience when shopping. Our consumers and grocery stores are held back because of these antiquated laws, which were crafted for a totally different era, where there was a need for laws to combat price fixing and fight organized time – concerns that are clearly outdated now.”

In order to unlock our potential growth, Greenwald said, state leaders must change the way we think about developing our communities and adjust our laws to reflect the times we are in.

“By updating our liquor license laws into the 21st century we can create greater consumer choice, stimulate our local economies, create jobs, and provide revenue for our towns and cities to be more competitive and promote growth,” he said.

Spencer added that state officials have been talking for years about the need for New Jersey to remain competitive and to do away with the type of onerous regulations that force businesses to move elsewhere.

“One area of focus must be our outdated liquor laws,” Spencer said. “When we talk about the need to create more jobs in this state and to slash all the bureaucratic red tape the stymies economic growth, we also need to take action. We need to listen to the business community and follow their direction to build opportunity and a more prosperous state. That is why I am sponsoring this bill.”

Opponents of the proposed law claim the legislation would negatively impact the state’s liquor retail industry. But a new independent study shows that such a law would benefit the economy and create more jobs.

According to an independent study commissioned by the Food Marketing Institute in Arlington, Va. in November, similar reforms were adopted in Massachusetts. New laws passed in 2012 allowed supermarkets in that state to have more liquor licenses for the convenience of shoppers, with no detriment to liquor stores, the report concluded.

“The owners of liquor store chains in New Jersey are fighting to maintain a monopoly they have enjoyed since the current liquor laws went into effect five decades ago,” said AJ Sabath, executive director of the Retailers for Responsible Liquor Licensing coalition. “This study reaffirms what we’ve all known for a very long time: Supermarkets can sell liquor without negatively impacting liquor stores.”

Massachusetts, which had similarly restrictive retail alcohol sales laws, adopted legislation similar to what is being proposed in New Jersey. Starting in January of 2012, the number of off-premise licenses allowed per each business went from three to five in Massachusetts.  This year, each business will be allowed to hold seven licenses, and in 2020, a maximum of nine.

As the new law takes effect, the study learned it has already had a positive impact in Massachusetts’ business climate. To date, the state is reporting $16.9 million in additional economic activity, as well as 150 new jobs.

In addition, the change in law has not prompted liquor monopolies to spread, as some opponents argue would occur in New Jersey. There is no evidence that smaller retailers are being “overrun” by supermarket chains, the report states.

Meanwhile, New Jerseyans have expressed a strong desire to allow more supermarkets to sell wine, beer and spirits. The Monmouth University Polling Institute found that among regular purchasers, 76 percent would like to see supermarkets sell alcohol.

According to the poll: “Those in favor of allowing supermarket alcohol sales mention convenience (50%) as the most important argument.  This is followed by the notion that “other states do it” (15%) and the feeling that there is just no good reason for limiting the sale of alcohol to liquor stores (14%).” 

“This is a practical solution to an antiquated problem,” Sumter said. “Support of our supermarkets as responsible distributors is necessary.  It addresses a business market need to encourage more supermarket openings throughout the state.”

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