Tuesday, April 24, 2012

New Liquor Store Above Wegmans Will Be Large, But Apparently Still Facing Local Opposition

Unless I have the geekiest prankster in the world posting, the owner of the new liquor store above Wegmans has written a long description of his store on the I Want The Columbia Wegmans Facebook page.

Mike Smith writes that he is a lawyer who has advised Wegmans in the past.  He is also a home brewer.  I missed this post when it went up over the weekend, but a bunch of people have already commented.  He says the liquor store will be more than 10,000 square feet.

Smith invites people to attend his May 1, 2012 liquor license hearing.  I don't claim to understand local liquor politics.  He says he expects opposition.


Jen Blacker said...

Why would anyone be fighting this? I don't understand why Maryland forbids beer and wine sales in stores, it's so backwards thinking.

When I moved here from Ohio in 2006 I went to Safeway to pick up some groceries and beer. I walked around a good 10 minutes before I asked someone where the beer aisle was. They looked at me like I had 3 heads.

They would have MORE sales if they allowed it. Places like Costco, Trader Joe's or local supermarkets Giant Eagle/Hienen's. Would pair wine/beer samples with food samples. People would purchase not only the food sample but the beer/wine as well. You could try out new things before you bought them.

It's such a shame this law exists here and even sillier that people are fighting having the liquor sold in normal stores.

Brent The Brewer said...

Looks like Perfect Pour is on the offensive already. They just posted this on their Facebook page:

We need your help!
As many of you have seen and heard, Wegmans is coming to our part of the world. What you may not know is that they have applied for a liquor license. This would be in direct violation of Maryland law which does not allow sales of alcohol in grocery stores. We hear politicians talk about the value of small business in this state and we have all been sad to the the corner hardware store disappear as big box stores take their place. Well, lots of neighborhood stores will disappear if the big stores are allowed to dominate the liquor industry.
We, at The Perfect Pour, have tried to create a store where selection and service are a "cut above". We work seven days a week and employ 15 members of the local community. We have only one product line to sell - the grocery stores have already put local florist out of business and when did you last visit a butcher shop??
If you support us and agree with us please send an email to PETER FRANCHOT, PFRANCHOT@comp.state.md.us, the Comptroller of Maryland and please come in and sign our petition to block this license when you come in this week.
Sincerely, Tom, Evelyn and Staff

Based on what the owner posted on that I Want The Columbia Wegmans group, I tend to think this message from Perfect Pour is a little skewed and misleading. As far as can tell, Wegmans is not the owner of this proposed liquor store. This sounds like a local individual leasing space. Perfect Pour is probably spooked because they may have to lower their ridiculously high beer prices in order to compete. A little competition helps us all in the long run and people should not be opposed to that, especially in this economical climate.


Zevonista said...

Brent, you beat me to it. While I love Perfect Pour and will continue to shop there due to the fantastic selection, it was really disingenuous of them to mislead people like this. Perhaps we need to write to Francheot to support the license, or show up at the hearing.

Brent The Brewer said...

Oh Zevonista, if I were available that night, I definitely would be there. The crap that Perfect Pour pulled wasn't right and I hope they only posted it because they were uninformed as opposed to being shady. The fact they are misleading people does make me want to work harder in supporting this new business.

Fred said...

You'd be amazed how other liquor stores fight like crazy to prevent any competition moving in and protect their monopolies. I've seen all sorts of dirty tricks here in Frederick County including having one call the Health Department on another when they served something other than the permissible crackers at a tasting.

Matt said...

Brent, if you think this new store is nothing more then someone leasing space from the Wegmans, then you're being naive. Wegmans is using the letter of the law to get around the spirit of the law, just as they do in other states that have similar laws about alcohol in super markets. (Do you honestly think it's coincidence that the owner of the new store is a lawyer with a pre-existing relationship with Wegmans?)

Generally speaking, I have no issue with this move since I'm also not a huge fan of this law. That said, I do have the wonder, does eastern Columbia need ANOTHER liquor store? Off the top of my head I can come up with 4 or 5 stores around the new Wegmans and that doesn't include any of the village centers. Do we really need more?

tacitus said...

The liquor laws in MD are fairly obscure and I think they need to be fixed. Liquor stores always play the competition games for new comers and always will. I can't entirely blame TPP for a game changer like Wegmans; although, I am certainly NOT emailing anyone on their behalf.

They are planning to sell spirits and that might well not be legal under Maryland law to sell in a grocery store at all. Maybe it would be as simple as having external doors and no internal doors between it and the Wegmans space.

Brent The Brewer said...

Matt, you are probably right. Being a lawyer for Wegmans probably bought this guy a spot in that building as a thank you for getting them into Columbia. But with that said, this sounds like a completely different entity than the beer/wine selling areas typically found at other Wegmans stores.

As far as I can tell, this is going to be a separate area, with separate cash registers, and my guess is that the product sold in this liquor store will not be coming into the store on Wegmans trucks. Will I get discounts for using my Wegmans card in this liquor store? I wish, but I doubt it! I also don't believe that Wegmans will get any percentage of the sales other than the money they charge for leasing this area of their building. When it comes down to it, I see it as a separate entity from Wegmans and it should be treated that way when going before the liquor commission.

Perfect Pour's sad attempt to rally the troops against this business is just a lame attempt at trying to remain the only legit seller of massive choices of import and craft beers in the area. Sure this will put a dent in their sales, but good owners see competition as being a healthy thing for the alcohol industry. Those who fear competition? Well they usually don't last very long. Perfect Pour just needs to let their business model do the talking and they will soon realize they both can exist in a craft beer thirsty area.


Matt said...

Brent, just so I know who I'm talking to, when you talk about the relationship between Wegmans and this new store, do you have any knowledge about how these types of leases/arrangements typically work? Or is this all based on a guess? I'm not trying to make any accusations, I'm just curious if you know more about the situation then I do (fyi, I'm just guessing and assuming).

That said, I think you're underestimating the relationship between these two entities. Yes, they will be separate entities in legal terms (at least as much as MD requires), but let's be honest here. This arrangement will give Wegmans an advantage over all of the other grocery and liquor stores in the area. And that advantage is the same advantage as Wallmart, Target, and other big box stores.

The biggest hurdle that PP faces these days is educating the people in the area that they exist and that they aren't your typical liquor store. Now, this isn't a unique issue (especially in Columbia) and they don't deserve special treatment for it. That said though, this new store is not going to have this problem. It is going to enjoy an advantage over all of it's competitors based purely on it's location. And yes, the fact that it's location is not just next to Wegmans, but INSIDE Wegmans, is an even bigger advantage.

So wanting to look at this new store "as a separate entity from Wegmans" is an overly simplified view of the situation that we're faced with.

But, if you do insist on viewing it as a separate entity, then I renew my original question, why do we need another liquor store in an area that already has almost half a dozen liquor stores?

Jim S. said...

Personally I don't see this as a huge issue. As long as the local liquor stores keep their prices around the same level as Wegmans then IMHO the local liquor stores will still win. Yes they may lose some of the spontaneous/small volume alcohol sales, but I don't see someone wanting to deal with the Wegmans traffic and store size to stock up on either large amounts or specialty stuff. It is already a pain in the butt dealing with traffic at the Costco plaza to go to PP, but you can at least park near the store. I can see it 100x worse at Wegmans.

Brent The Brewer said...

Matt, being heavily involved with the beer and homebrewing community in and around Baltimore, as well as having friends who are in the liquor store business, I have a pretty good idea of how this stuff works, but I by no means have an inside scoop on this particular situation.

I consider myself someone who just wants the craft beer community to continue to grow, especially around where I live. Based on the sales expansion in the craft beer area over the last 10 years and the fact that microbreweries are popping up all over the place, I am very confident that the area can handle another store that is devoted to selling craft beers. More and more people are turning away from the Anheuser-Busch, Miller, and Coors products and are turning to more satisfying beers with better ingredients and more flavor.

Right now the options are somewhat limited in the immediate driving area if you are looking for a wide variety of craft beer selections at a retail location. You have Perfect Pour, which has one of the best selections that I've ever seen in the US, and you have Corridor Wines, which has a decent beer selection, but is more dedicated to wine sales. Beyond that, you have a handful of Mom and Pop type places that can have a small selection, but stick to the mainstream craft beers (New Belgium, Dogfish, Flying Dog, and Oskar Blues) and "domestic corn-flavored beers."

With that said, Perfect Pour really has a monopoly on the market in this area and serves as a destination shop for people to go to. The owners know that and that's how they justify their higher than market value prices. It's a classic case of supply and demand! Having another store in the area that could be another destination shop for craft beer fans, will not only create jobs and get more people educated on craft beer, it will also adjust the prices on beer back to where they should be at Perfect Pour. This is all done through some old fashioned American competition.

I for one think this new store is a good thing for the area and encourage it. I also will voice my opinion when I see someone not being truthful in an effort to educate others, like I saw from Perfect Pour on Facebook this morning. There is plenty of room for both to exist, regardless of whether people want to believe this is a Wegmans run entity under another business name. That's the point I was trying to make.

Good discussion though Matt. Sounds like one that should be done over brews. :)


Fred said...

" why do we need another liquor store in an area that already has almost half a dozen liquor stores?"

In a word- competition. Let the market decide what we need not a liquor board.


Matt said...

Brian, don't get me wrong, I'm all for competition in the craft brew market. If this was simply another liquor store coming in and directly challenging PP's monopoly, I'd be down right giddy in anticipation of the battle.

My issue is that I really do think the new Wegman's store is going to have an unfair advantage in the situation. And my fear is that is going to negatively effect this nice little bear scene we've got going here. I'd be real curious to hear if the new Wegman's store plans on doing anything for Beer Week or if there will be tastings and/or similar events that are more community oriented.

And as far as your comment about having this discussions over some brews, name the time and place. :)

Off topic: do you know of any local brewing classes?

Baltimore Beer Guy said...

A LOT of beer people are going to be bothered with this.

I know the liquor in groceries thing works in other states but I actually (for now) side with those who dont want that to happen.

The Beer Wars movie spells some of the troubles out with this. Essentially the big guys strongarm for space and bastardize the market and offer odd packaging and steep price discounts to their advantage.

Among other issues.

Matt said...

And I think BBG just gave name to this uneasy feeling I've been trying to identify.

If you haven't seen Beer Wars, I suggest giving it a viewing. It's on Netflix (including Instant Viewing) if you have that.

Anonymous said...

If a liquor store opened above a Safeway or a Giant, with a lawyer who has a relationship with one of two, it would be wrong. This is wrong.

This is just another way Wegman's gets around existing laws. They are NOT the friendly company so many think.

What about all the many small liquor stores? People who have invested their ENTIRE life in owning a small store? Is this fair that Big Bad Wegman's can come into the area, and just run them out of business based on a loophole?

This is just more of the same B.S.

tacitus said...

@BBG is correct; places with beer/wine in grocery stores tend to have crappier selections of beer/wine. As much as MD wine laws are FUBAR'd; they have left a large number of high quality beer/wine stores in its wake and even the crappiest at least in howard have a pretty good selection.

And as far as wegman's being "friendly" people are right about that to. I have seen a lot of large companies come in and they are all-friendly until there is no local competition and then they are all-not-friendly.

Anonymous said...

As much as I love PP their prices can be high. But I would still be bummed if they close. I'm not in Laurel enough to do my shopping at Corridor.

That said, as a Dad of 3 if I can get all my shopping done at one location I'm happy.

Anonymous said...

Interesting article about Calvert Wine and the Wegmans in Hunt Valley:


Anonymous said...

We have Walmart here, we have Target here, we have Home Depot and Lowes and Giant and Safeway, and yet we still have the same small businesses that every other community in every other state has. I have a big secret for Marylanders and Howard Countyites (totally made up names, may or may not be correct, but nonetheless...) most states have beer, wine and, in some states, spirits sold in grocery stores and, yet, local liquor stores still happily co-exist. The difference might be that, in those states, the local liquor stores are more competitive in their pricing and selection. Why, just because we live in Maryland, do we, as consumers, have to be the guardian of small businesses at the expense or our convenience and pocketbooks? I have lived in several other states and I have never been unable to pick up a steak and a bottle of wine in the same store. Here's another secret, the liquor industry has a stronghold on Maryland and it is affecting the quality of life of its citizens. If you're going to write Peter Franchot or your congressman or senator, write about that.

Fred said...

Interesting article about Harris Teeter in Baltimore trying to do something similar.


HowICook said...

In nearby Montgomery county, there are several grocery stores that have beer and wine in the aisles. The Silver Spring Safeway on 29 was the closest but the beer and wine recently moved to the new Olney store. The store is on Georgia just off 108. A little further down Georgia toward the ICC is Montgomery county's Roots. They have beer and wine too. Rick, long time I.M. Wine employee, recently started working at Roots as their beer and wine manager.

tacitus said...

@HowlCook There seems to be some differences in Montgomery County in that beer and wine can be sold in grocery stores, but they still have to abide with the MD single owner thing and I don't think they are allowed hard liquor. IIRC that was why the "giant" liquor store was refused in Long Gate before the dawn of time.

And while we are on the Long Gate topic. Just remember its not just the various liquor monopolies that prevent change; its also the various prohibition groups that stop change. One of the big opposers for the Long Gate liquor store was the church across the way.

Matt said...

Only county ABC stores can sell liquor in Montgomery County.

Baltimore Beer Guy said...

Aaaand we're getting closer to the problem.

Big beer/liquor near-monopolies AND very, very powerful prohibition type groups (a coalition of MADD and religious groups) plus a general do gooder atmosphere in a one party state with its inevitable layers of institutionalized corruption.

Unfortunately as much as the liquor/beer in groceries works in some (but not all) states where its allowed, just my experience as a consumer who personally knows people at all levels of the business and talks to them about these things, I'm just not sure that is a winner in Maryland, given the business/political structure we've established in the last century or so.

In the abstract Im 100% for that: competition, free markets, etc.

But its just a weird situation we have now and I think a lot of other features of the legal/business aspect to what we have now in Maryland need to be toppled and/or remedied before we get to what should be an obvious and easy free market choice.

We're a ridiculously over-regulated, goofy state but right now the parties at all levels mostly have reached a peace and don't want to press things because the fallout would be chaotic and uncertain and nobody's prepared just yet to deal with the consequences. A lot of consumer good would prevail, but also a lot of harm. Again, our over-regulation has been detrimental to the growth of local alcohol and beer products and they would probably suffer greatly in the resulting chaos. They're not strong enough yet to stand up and take on this system and probably are still many years away.

tacitus said...

Observations on wine/beer distribution by grocery stores necessarily causing cheaper prices. My brother was visiting from NC and ended up stopping in a MD liquor store on the way back and noticed I wine that he liked was cheaper by a few bucks than it was in NC; he was impressed he checked on the wine cost in VA. In NC they do sell beer/wine in grocery stores, but liquor is in ABC stores. That is certainly not a rigorous comparison, but I am not convinced of the concept of selling alcohol in grocery stores is going to be the cost panacea. I also maintain (as stated before) that the weird single owner business has left MD with a large number of very good quality stores with a high variety; where in other states where beer/wine are in grocery stores it tends not the case.

I agree it would be good the alcohol laws were overhauled from top to bottom, but I am not convinced it will improve either the prices or varieties available by that much.

K8teebug said...

People are not going to stop going to Perfect Pour if there's a beer/wine/liquor store at Wegmans. It makes me angry that they are protesting this!

And I go to our local butcher exclusively. Or I buy local beef from Roots Market. I don't buy meat at the grocery store.

Time to get out of the dark ages and allow beer sales at grocery stores.

K8teebug said...

and I'm with Brent. PP has such a great selection, but their prices are insane.

Anonymous said...

i'm currently in Europe- it's amusing how there exists a stereotypical notion that European-style of governing is socialist in tendency and too "hippy" to ever work in the US. The grocery stores sell liquor, beer, and wine, and the independents sell liquor, beer, and wine. No regulation permitting one to sell and forbidding the other. There are a few parallels to be drawn here, but i do know that people patronize both grocery stores and independently-owned wine stores.

Steve Fine said...

I think the disinformation spewed by Perfect Pour is deplorable.

Alison said...

New York State allows beer sales in grocery stores. In Western NY there are Wegmans everywhere - it's the regular neighborhood grocery store there. And you know what? We also still have plenty of liquor stores. And more bakeries, butcher shops, and florists than MD does, I'm sure. Doing just fine, despite "big, bad Wegmans." Is Wegmans being a bit "cute" with this arrangement in Columbia? Sure. They did something similar at least one of their Rochester stores. But really it's much ado about nothing.

Morty Abzug said...

Not only is this guy Wegman's local lawyer rather than a retailer, he also says he plans to run it according to Wegman's principles. I'm with Matt here: the liquor store in Wegman's is a transparent attempt to dodge the legal restrictions on combined ownership of grocery and liquor stores. Perfect Pour seems to be in the right.

But like others, I'm not sure I actually support the law that is forcing Wegman's to play this game. So I'm going to sit this one out.

Morty Abzug said...

BTW: while the sentiment of protecting the little liquor store is noble, it's not the reason for this law. The little liquor store is no more deserving of protection than the little deli, the little bakery, the little pharmacy, the little fish mongers, and other stores that are much more rare because of supermarkets. No, the law is about temperance and prohibition rather than competition. The law exists because puritanical ancestors didn't want buying liquor to be too convenient. The law is kept alive and abused by stores looking to protect themselves from competition.

TeeJay said...

I'd just like to throw out a mention of Cindy's in Elkridge. They have a really great craft beer selection (not as extensive as PP, but certainly more than most) and have neither the prices nor the attitude of PP. I'll still be going there no matter what happens at Wegman's.

Anonymous said...

There are BWL stores next to: Hickory Ridge Giant; Harper's Choice Safeway; Dorsey Search Giant; Trader Joe's (ahem, Perfect Pour). So, we're supposed to fight a BWL store at Wegman's because it neighbors the grocery store vertically instead of horizontally?

Perfect Pour is just sore that some insider got a sweetheart deal on a better retail location. But even that remains to be seen. Wegman's could easily turn into such a traffic disaster (much like Perfect Pour) that I'd rather go somewhere like Decanter for something quick.

Despite all this wrangling over retail locations and grocery stores, my favorite BWL store, Wine Bin in Old Ellicott City, is nowhere near a grocery store. Their #1 status in my book isn't likely to change because of some new liquor warehouse at Wegman's, either. I will continue to go out of my way to visit them regularly. It's a small store, everyone is friendly and knowledgeable, and I don't think there's a single bottle of junk on the shelves. Be sure to say hi to Chloe when you visit. You'll recognize her by her four big paws and wagging tail.

K8teebug said...

LOVE Wine Bin! They are SO NICE there.

Anonymous said...

The Acme in Talbott County sells beer, wine, and hard liquor. I'm pretty sure Graul's does too.

AlPal3 said...

I spend a lot of time in Virginia visiting family and the grocery stores there sell wine and beer. I've never found them to have superior selection or better prices. Trader Joe's is the only one I've been to that wowed me with their price. Also someone mentioned that PP has an attitude. I have to say I've only been there a few times, but they've never been anything but extra helpful to me when I ask a question which is almost every time I've been there. I've always found them to be very friendly and helpful.

Cate in Columbia said...

Sorry- I hope he gets the license! I think its time to buy wine (or beer) in a grocery store. I'd also like to see sales in Costco BJ's, Trader Joes, etc. I've shopped at Perfect Pour- very high prices!

Jade's Mama said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jade's Mama said...

Maryland not allowing grocery stores to have alcohol really makes it hard for those of us looking for a good selection of Asian wine and liquor. In other states that I've lived in, I was able to pick up a rice wine my family prefers for cooking at the Asian grocery stores. In addition, we could pick up plum and other types wines that are not readily available at non-Asian stores. I have asked Perfect Pour and their selection of Asian alcohol is pretty limited. Another thing I miss is having wines available at Costco and Trader Joe's, which offer really competitive prices.

Anonymous said...

Competition breeds better prices. Frankly, outside of a handful of HoCo places Village Pump in CP and The Corridor in Laurel are an example of diverse selections at somewhat reasonable prices. Perfect Pour and the shops in Ellicot City need more competition for craft/micro brews, which I'd hope the new store would stock en masse.

Just repeating the previous line that competition to drive down prices isn't a bad thing, it helps the customer. Look at a place like Gilly's in Rockville, almost no competition nearby so they can gouge price-wise (beyond the price hike that MoCo enforces with their liqour board)