The proposed 10,000-square-foot liquor store inside the new Columbia Wegmans has reignited the debate on whether wine, beer and liquor should be sold in Maryland grocery and convenience stores.
In an expansive article on Saturday, the Baltimore Sun examined how multiple grocery stores are trying to find ways around rules that generally ban chain grocery stores from selling wine, beer and liquor. (There are some exceptions, such as an Eastern Shore Giant location that has a license that has been grandfathered.)
Adam Borden, the president of Marylanders for Better Beer & Wine Laws, said the bans are antiquated.
“Our culture has evolved,” said Borden. “It used to be one where temperance and orderly tax collections were our most paramount concerns. Today, consumers are bridling with restrictions that were in place decades ago because they stifle greater selection and better pricing.”
In order to be within liquor license rules, the proposed liquor store for Wegmans would be 10 percent owned and managed on a day-to-day basis by Ralph Michael Smith, a lawyer who lives in Ellicott City.
IAD LLC would own the other 90 percent of the store. IAD is a Delaware holding company owned by Christopher O’Donnell, the husband of Colleen Wegman, the president of Wegmans. Although O’Donnell is connected to Wegmans through his wife, he is technically independent from the chain grocery store.
In the Sun article, Smith said that O’Donnell has a dozen or so other start-up ventures that he runs independently. He said nobody in Wegmans owns anything in those ventures and “I guess (people) aren’t used to couples having two high-powered careers,” according to the Sun.
At the liquor board hearing on May 1, local liquor store owners voiced their concern about Smith being a front for Wegmans.
Amran Pasha, who owns a gas station in Columbia, complained that if Smith gets a license, then other large retailers would emulate the process to get their own stores.
“They’re not allowed to have a liquor store, so they’ve figured out a way to do it,” said Pasha. “The next thing we have is Giant doing the same thing… that means the end of small business in Columbia.”
At the hearing, only one Howard County resident came out in support of the proposal, Judy George of Laurel.
She said, “With the antiquated laws in Maryland, it’s really hard to find great wines and beers.”
She said she often goes to Corridor in Anne Arundel County to find particular wines she’s looking for, but would prefer to spend her money in Howard County.
Eric Stein, owner of Decanter Fine Wines and Spirits in Hickory Ridge, said after the hearing, "The average person doesn't care that much about alcohol sales. But the people involved in the industry want others to follow the rules... If the public wants to change the rules, there should be an outcry to do so."
Editor's Note: The original story said Corridor was located in Prince George's County, in fact, it's in Anne Arundel County. The story has been corrected, thank you commenters.
What do you think? Should Maryland allow beer, wine and liquor sales at chain grocery stores?