Darien liquor store owners, workers react to possible liquor pricing changes
DARIEN — Tom Skinner has been working in liquor stores for 40 years. Now working at Frate’s Liquors in town and serving as head of the Connecticut Package Store Association, Skinner said the governor’s proposal to modify the minimum bottle pricing is another way the state is harming small businesses.
“This state has always supported small businesses and now it’s not, especially when it comes to liquor,” Skinner said, referring to laws allowing Sunday alcohol sales and increasing Sunday liquor store hours which led to a need for increased manpower.
In his proposed state budget, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy suggests a modification to the minimum bottle pricing for the state’s alcoholic beverages. According to Carroll Hughes, founder of the lobbying firm Hughes and Cronin, this modification would eliminate the definition of “minimum bottle cost,” essentially eliminating the minimum bottle price.
The hope is this decrease in alcohol prices would lead to more alcohol purchases and more excise tax. According to Malloy’s proposal, this modification would add $1.9 million in revenue in 2018 and $2.5 million in 2019. Some, however, don’t agree.
“What he’s proposing, quite honestly, is probably a revenue reduction more than anything else,” Hughes said. “We’d have to sell about 11 million bottles of vodka to equal 1.9 million in excise tax which is almost preposterous. It’s making assumptions that people spend around $220 million in liquor sales.”
Those on the other side of the argument feel minimum price laws are unjust and drive people to go to neighboring states like Massachusetts for their liquor.
“We think the current price system in Connecticut is unfair and unconstitutional quite frankly,” said Edward Cooper, head of public affairs for Total Wine & More. “It artificially inflates prices for customers and that’s not right. Customers deserve to get not only great selection and service but the best prices they can get. Rather than have Connecticut residents go across the border for good prices, we believe we ought to change system currently in place in CT and allow for there to be price competition.”
Many liquor store employees around Darien disagree. Andy Patel, an assistant manager at Darien Liquor Shop, has been at the store for around four months now and already noticed the positive effect of the current minimum liquor pricing in helping them stay competitive.
“We cannot buy as much as the big stores, so it’s good for us,” Patel said.
But Patel and other small liquor store managers, like Tim Smith, manager of Wineport of Dairen, worry eliminating minimum prices will make it harder for them to compete with other liquor stores.
“In general, you’ll lose a lot of small stores in the area, as well as the variety of product,” said Smith of the possible passing of the modification. “I think it hurts the convenience for the customers as well.”
In the meantime, Smith said he’s trying to keep prices low to help his business.
“We’re at minimum [prices] right now,” he said. “We’re competitive with pricing.”