Over the weekend, you may have missed a timely column authored by the Tallahassee Democrat editorial board, entitled “Our Opinion: ‘Liquor Wall’ a Relic that Needs to Come Down.”
In the column, the editorial board voices support for tearing down the alcohol separation wall through Senator Anitere Flores’ bill, SB106 – citing an evolving society as a reason to repeal the antiquated, Prohibition era law.
Our opinion: ‘Liquor wall’ a relic that needs to come down
By: Tallahassee Democrat Editorial Board
Normally sensible legislators can make all kinds of laws about crime, education, transportation or taxation – but they seem to get a little tipsy when the topic is alcohol.
Spurred by the public’s thirst and their own appetite for the revenue “sin taxes” contribute to state coffers, state legislators have chipped away at liquor laws over the past 80-plus years. They left some local options, for communities that want to regulate the time, place and type of alcohol sales they will allow. But tourism-dependent Florida doesn’t really have the kind of “wet” and “dry” controversies that legislators in many states have had since the demise of Prohibition.
There is, however, one relic of the Noble Experiment still affecting our booze market – the requirement that liquor stores have a separate entrance from regular retail establishments. They call it the “liquor wall” down at the Capitol, where the move to repeal the separation rule this year is a textbook example of special-interest legislating.
There has been no great public clamor from citizens who feel oppressed by having to walk out of Walmart or Target, go 50 feet down the sidewalk, and enter the store’s liquor store when they want to buy a bottle. The “big box” stores just want to put the hard stuff on shelves next to their beer and wine, making shopping and restocking more efficient. The liquor store operators, like ABC Fine Wine & Spirits, have lobbied for years to make things the way they are – and don’t want the big boys to muscle into a bigger share of the market.
It’s not exactly the Capone gang fighting Bugs Moran for control of some speakeasies. But in an era when you can order online and have a bottle delivered, the idea of walling off liquor stores from the rest of a big market seems like an almost charming anachronism.
There is one good argument against the bill (SB 106) by Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, that would tear down the alcohol wall. At a Senate committee hearing last month, ABC’s chief executive and some lobbyists for independent dealers said shoplifting is a lot easier in the big box stores. You can’t stuff a six pack of beer, or a case, under your jacket and kids don’t want wine, but a flask-like bottle fits easily into a pocket.
Minors aren’t allowed in a liquor store alone, and are very conspicuous when they come in with an adult. Plus, those stores have more employees and security cameras per square foot to guard against theft.
But those superstores are national chains, and their locations in states without the separate-door requirement have not reported any major problems with liquor thefts.
Since the 18th Amendment and the Volstead Act, for more than a century, state and federal legislators have had a love-hate relationship with alcohol. Governments need the revenue and people want to drink – but nobody feels real good about it. Politicians like to say you can’t legislate morality, but that doesn’t stop many of them from trying.
Here in Tallahassee, alcohol regulation has a storied history, much of it probably embellished in the retelling. The fabled Silver Slipper restaurant, long gone now, used to have little rooms off of its main floor, where lobbyists and legislators could pull a curtain and cut some deals. Privacy was important, not just for the subject matter under discussion.
At various times, many places had “brown bagging.” Waiters, who had no idea what patrons had in those little sacks, would bring a glass of ice and a pitcher of water, Coke or ginger ale. We can only wonder how much of Florida history was shaped at Wakulla Lodge, which financier Ed Ball built to entertain the state’s decision-makers of a long-gone era.
Back before the legislative gift ban, there was the famous “beer fairy,” who’d leave a case at a legislator’s doorstep every morning of the session. In fact, when South Florida legislators tried to move the Capitol to Orlando, one of the reasons local members were able to stop them was that Leon County had finally gone wet. (Another reason was that Big Bend legislators had real power back then.)
Innocent children are not going to be scarred by the sight of a Jack Daniels label, next to a row of beer and wine on a grocery shelf, if the Flores bill passes. Nor will keeping the alcohol wall, and requiring customers to make a second stop in their shopping, impede law-abiding adults who are buying their booze.
It’s not going to affect drinking habits or state revenues but, on balance, we’d say it’s time to scrap this hangover from a long-gone, more innocent age.
Floridians for Fair Business Practices is a coalition of retailers and business groups whose purpose is to identify rules and regulations, which prohibit the growth and expansion of Florida business. For additional information, please visit to www.FairBizinFlorida.com.