Vote may allow wine in food stores

by Beacon Staff • October 18, 2006

It might get easier Nov. 7 when voters will also be asked to determine whether wine will be sold in grocery stores, abolishing a long-held "blue law."

Question 1 on the ballot calls for the repeal of a law prohibiting grocers from selling any alcohol.,Need a drink after the incessant political banter this election season?

It might get easier Nov. 7 when voters will also be asked to determine whether wine will be sold in grocery stores, abolishing a long-held "blue law."

Question 1 on the ballot calls for the repeal of a law prohibiting grocers from selling any alcohol.

But some residents are beginning to uncork the 72-year-old law.

According to the official petition, Question 1 calls for "an additional class of licenses allowing the sale of wine at food stores . and may be issued at the discretion of local licensing authorities."

The referendum defines a "food store" as any retailer where the customer is expected to consume food products off-site. The store must also carry a variety of items such as fresh meat, dairy products, eggs, poultry, fruit, produce, dessert items and baking ingredients.

"It is good for me, but for the authorities and liquor store owners it is negative," said Leandro Caires, a 21-year-old film major at Emerson College. "It will make the consumption more feasible and broaden the liquor rights."

A Web site supporting the initiative, wineatgrocerystores.com, posted the results of several studies showing that Massachusetts shoppers will save $26 to $36 million every year the referendum is in place.

The site, operated by YES on 1: Grocery Stores and Consumers for Fair Competition, also claims that selling wine in grocery stores will not increase underage drinking.

"The data shows that grocery stores are as good or better at complying with underage drinking laws than package stores," the Web site says. "The 34 other states that allow grocery stores to sell wine actually have no greater incidence on average of underage drinking violations than the states that don't permit grocery stores to sell wine."

Eli Downs, an employee at the Whole Foods Market on Cambridge Street, agreed that the grocery stores would have no problem carding customers.

"Larger companies are stricter on checking IDs," Downs said. "They could lose their licenses. They would not want the negative publicity."

Whole Foods is currently handing out fliers to customers, endorsing a "yes" vote on Question 1.

Chris Flynn, president of the Massachusetts Food Association, declined to comment on the proposal's effect on underage drinking.

Alex Marger, owner of Simmons Bottled Liquors on Cambridge Street, said he supports the current law. He said he believes the change would make it easier for minors to obtain alcohol.

"This is a very bad idea. This will allow more access to kids. At least we know what we are doing," Marger said, as he pointed to wall behind him plastered with fake IDs the shop has confiscated over the years.

But not all agree that safety concerns will outweigh convenience.

"I think it's great," said Downs. "The intent is not to take business away, but offer more convenience and specialty selections."

Joel Haffner, a junior audio/radio major from California, said in his home state, alcohol is sold openly at all food stores.

"It shouldn't be an issue, it should be 'yes,'" Haffner said. "I am an American. I want booze and food as soon as possible."