Joe Henderson: Tearing down 'booze wall' is right choice for consumers - Florida Politics

Joe Henderson: Tearing down ‘booze wall’ is right choice for consumers

Assuming Gov. Rick Scott signs the bill repealing the state’s so-called “booze wall,” I suspect it won’t take long before we all wonder what the fuss was about.

The euphemistic wall is one of those Prohibition-era creations that mandated hard liquor can’t be sold in regular grocery stores. That might have made sense 82 years ago when it was enacted, but in 2017 — when convenience and one-stop shopping drives the market — it no longer does.

Repealing the law will allow shoppers the convenience of stocking up on their favorite spirit in the same store where they’re buying milk, lettuce, cheese and something for the grill.

Mom and pop liquor stores likely will feel the most pain from this, since their prices generally run higher — but that’s market forces at work.

The Senate’s already approved the measure, dubbed the “Whiskey & Wheaties” bill, and it passed the House by a single vote, 58-57. Lawmakers obviously were queasy about this. Some of them no doubt bought the argument by Charles Bailes III, chairman and CEO of ABC Fine Wine and Spirits, that removing the law would encourage under-aged drinking.

“The wall, which has separated minors from hard liquor for decades, has never hurt competition in Florida but it has kept young people from stealing bottles or drinking them in stores,” he said in a story by Jim Rosica on SaintPetersBlog.

“We are grateful for the 57 members who voted to fight for that protection and respect their political courage to do the right thing.”

It should be noted, though, that ABC offers a home-delivery service for those times when your supply is running low, and you don’t feel like leaving the house.

The argument against was disingenuous to me. It was really about protecting a monopoly.

I suspect shopping is about to become even more pleasurable at Publix, even though the grocery giant also opposed tearing down the wall. It will be interesting to see if Publix shrugs and goes along with the new reality, especially since it could have a big impact on the more than 200 Publix Liquors stores it has opened since 2003 as a separate business model.

I’m sure opponents of this measure will cry that this speeds the further decay of America, but to me removing that last barrier makes sense. The consumer wanting to buy a bottle of booze while shopping for groceries will able to do so without going to a separate store.

The consumer wishing to avoid that aisle will have the choice.

Isn’t that how it is supposed to work?

I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including the last nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. I covered a large variety of things, primarily in sports but also including hard news. The two intertwined in the decade-long search to bring Major League Baseball to the area. I also was the City Hall reporter for two years and covered all sides of the sales tax issue that ultimately led to the construction of Raymond James Stadium. I served as a full-time sports columnist for about 10 years before moving to the metro news columnist for the last 4 ½ years. I have numerous local, state and national writing awards. I have been married to my wife, Elaine, for nearly 35 years and have two grown sons – Ben and Patrick.
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