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Big Box Retailers Sue State, Reviving Whiskey and Wheaties Debate

September 25th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
Walmart and Target are suing the state to accomplish what they’ve been unable to get for at least the last five years: The ability to sell alcohol by the bottle in their main stores.
The retailers are trying to accomplish through an administrative process what they couldn’t get from the Governor and State Lawmakers.
Big Box stores can only sell liquor if it’s separated by a wall from their main grocery shelves.
In 2017 they almost succeeded at tearing those walls down.
The so called ‘Whiskey and Wheaties’ bill was narrowly approved by lawmakers, but Governor Rick Scott soon vetoed the bill.
“I’ve had family members that have dealt with, had the challenge of alcoholism,” Scott said in a 2017 interview.
Now, Walmart and Target are trying a new strategy, arguing they should qualify for consumption on premises liquor licenses because many of their stores are licensed as restaurants.
To get a consumption on premises license, the law says liquor can only be sold alongside “items customarily sold in a restaurant”, but the statute doesn’t define those items.
Walmart and Target argue the list defined by agency rule making more than two decades ago is too narrow.
ABC Liquors lobbyist Scott Dick has fought the big box stores each year in the Legislature.
He believes the administrative challenge suggests the retailers are running out of options.
“Costco sells caskets. So caskets would be customarily sold in a restaurant. I mean it’s a far stretch,” said Dick.
Walmart and Target say the state arbitrarily enforces the existing rule, allowing companies like hotels to obtain consumption on premises licenses, despite selling items outside of the state’s own definition of items customarily sold in restaurants.
Will Hall represents the Florida Independent Spirits Association.
Hall says repealing the rule would create confusion for traditional liquor stores.
“They basically say anything in the world can fit the definition, I think that renders the statute meaningless. You can’t do that,” said Hall.
If the rule is stricken, not only would stores like Walmart and Target be allowed to sell liquor on their shelves, but they would also be allowed to sell beverages for customers to drink while they shop.

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