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Liquor stores fear the worst as lawmakers allow big box stores to sell hard liquor

Posted at 7:15 PM, Apr 26, 2017
and last updated 2017-04-27 09:54:37-04

Next year, the way you shop for alcohol could be changing.

On Wednesday, state lawmakers approved a measure that would allow consumers to buy hard liquor in grocery stores. Right now, you can only buy beer and wine there.

However, the move has liquor stores across the state pretty upset. They spent months speaking out against the bill, with hundreds of business owners protesting at the capital in Tallahassee.

By a narrow margin on Wednesday, the Florida house voted to allow retailers -- at least those who choose to do so -- to remove the wall of separation between hard liquor and groceries.

Local mom and pop shop owners like Patricia Saternis fear the competition. She and her husband, Mike, have run High Spirits Liquors and Lounge for 30 years.

“We started off down here from Bay County where I had my own liquor business that was put out of business by a big box store for the first time," she said.

Saternis worries about countless jobs across Florida being lost if long-time businesses lose out to big grocery stores.

“The whole business is generated around service and if you can just go to a grocery store and pick it up, why go next door to a business?” she said.

Mike said he’s worried about easy access for teenagers, citing one example of underage employees taking advantage of the system.

“I think the underage drinking is going to be running rampant," he said. "It's very, very hard to keep inventory control."

Even Publix opposes the measure because it invested in its own separate liquor stores at multiple locations. But companies who support it, like Wal-Mart and Target, cite convenience for customers.

“I just think it’s a shame. It’s not considered more for the small, middle class people. We’re not the big box stores with all the money to fight all of these regulations," said Patricia.

Opinions among shoppers differ.

"I think it's convenient...I think it's a good thing," one woman told WPTV, while shopping outside of Publix.

"I guess it'd be more convenient... But I'm still against it," said West Palm Beach resident Elvin Corey. "Stores like Target and Walmart getting a hold of that, it would make it to where no one else -- like many industries we know of -- can't compete with them."

"I don't agree with it. I believe that's what liquor stores are for. So that they can do to the liquor store and not Winn Dixie or Publix," said West Palm Beach resident Wayne Defau.

Either way, Senate Bill 106 is about to become law if Governor Rick Scott signs off on it.

To avoid underage drinking, the bill calls for employees over 18 to check identification and approve sales for underage cashiers. It also requires mini bottles to be sold behind a counter.