WESTBOROUGH, Mass. — Cumberland Farms is taking aim at Massachusetts liquor laws, filing a ballot question with the state attorney general's office that would lift the state restrictions on the number of alcohol licenses a food retailer can have.
The convenience store chain argues that it's time to modernize the state's archaic liquor laws, while package stores are gearing up for a fierce fight to defend their turf, reported The Boston Globe.
Package stores won the first battle against supermarket chains that wanted to lift the caps 13 years ago, and persuaded voters to keep a three-store-maximum in place. Both sides spent $12 million-plus, representing the most expensive ballot war in state history at the time.
When the prospect of another ballot question was prompted in 2011, package stores and their alcohol distribution industry allies reached a truce, which quickly moved its way through the state legislature and became a law, according to the news outlet.
The law states that the number of alcohol sales licenses per retailer would go up, gradually rising from three to nine in January 2020. Both sides agreed to not push any further changes, at least until after the final increase took effect next year. However, c-stores weren’t a part of the 2011 deal.
Westborough-based Cumberland Farms, which recently reached a deal to be sold to EG Group, would benefit from the 2020 ballet question receiving enough votes to pass. Currently, the c-store retailer operates more than 200 locations in the state of Massachusetts, and only seven of those can sell alcohol. That number is expected to increase to nine next year, as allowed by the 2011 comprise, according to Matt Durand, the chain’s government affairs manager.
Cumberland Farms' proposal would lift the caps on traditional off-premise sales licenses over time until they are eliminated entirely in 2024. Meanwhile, it would establish a new kind of "food store" license for beer and wine, to be doled out at the municipal level. There would be no cap for those, but Durand notes that town officials could also decide that they don't want to issue any.
The ballot question would also establish more rules for age verification at the checkout counter.
Although the measure would bring more choice for consumers, Massachusetts Packaged Stores Association Executive Director Rob Mellion predicts it would destabilize the marketplace, as bigger players use their buying power to muscle out mom-and-pops in the package store industry. The organization is prepared to fight back, The Boston Globe reported.
Industry players who haven't taken a stance on the measure include Beer Distributors of Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Food Association and the Retailers Association of Massachusetts.
Cumberland Farms operates approximately 600 convenience stores in seven Northeast states and Florida.