October 26, 2006

The Massachusetts Ballot: Question 1

The Massachusetts Ballot: Question 1 - Wine Sales

I missed the last governor’s candidate debate tonight (just plain spaced it out, and I hadn’t DVR’ed it). My debate coverage is marginal at best, anyhow. Let’s look at ballot questions. This post is about Question 1.

You can read the state voter information page on all the ballot questions here.

Question 1 is about changing state law to allow more grocery stores to sell wine.

I have always been a little confused by Mass. state law regarding this issue, because it seemed to me that there already were liquor stores selling wine, but now and again I’d hear people saying that grocery stores were not allowed to sell wine in Massachusetts.

That’s technically correct in one sense, but not entirely true. It’s possible for a grocery store to sell wine in MA, it’s just that the current laws are very restrictive. They must get a full liquor license. Such licenses are limited in number by town and also limited by individual — only three licenses per owner across the state. So, technically, grocery stores can’t sell alcohol. By getting a liquor license, they’ve basically become a liquor store as well as a grocery. Semantics! But, essentially, groceries are restricted from selling wine by state law.

The new law proposes to allow groceries to sell wine (and it appears to be wine only, not beer or liquor) with some restrictions.
The licensing authorities in any city or town of up to 5000 residents could issue up to 5 licenses for food stores to sell wine. In cities or towns of over 5000 residents, one additional license could be issued for each additional 5000 residents (or fraction of 5000).
This means that a market without a regular liquor license could now fairly easily get a wine license if they just wanted to sell wine.

My Opinion

I’m voting yes on Question 1, to allow groceries to sell wine.

(see comments) Right on the face of it, I’m always suspicious of too-restrictive laws and I feel that they have to justify their existence. So, easing restrictions is my default position, and I look to the opposition to convince me. Their arguments, in this case, are not compelling. And I find some of them insulting as well. Reading the “Vote No on Question 1” blog left me feeling like state wine consumers were being characterized as winos looking to binge on cheap “Chuck a buck.” That turned me right off.

But it’s their reasoning I don’t find convincing. They want me to worry that this is about a foreign corporation who is just looking for more profits. I don’t care who stands to benefit from a change if the current laws can’t be reasonably defended. The point is, will allowing wine sales in groceries be a good thing or a bad thing? Besides, it makes perfect sense why current license-holders would oppose the issuing of more licenses. It dilutes their near monopoly. As a consumer, why should I want to preserve their monopoly?

If you read the opposition’s Q&A, it’s tough to find an actual argument in there, but it seems to come down to “people will drink more” (including kids) and that it will cost taxpayers more money to police the new wine stores.

Most underage drinkers get their alcohol from legal adults, not from stores. Other states allow wine sales in markets and they’re not seeing the problems that the anti-Q1 folks threaten.

I’m not much of a wine drinker, mainly because I don’t make a special trip for it. I’m one of those people who will more likely buy wine when I’m buying food. Why? Because I either buy it for cooking or I buy it to drink with dinner I’m preparing. The last time I bought wine, I bought it at Auclair’s in Somerset, a grocery store, because I wanted it to go with my dinner. I go to a liquor store when I need liquor; wine is a different animal.

Treating wine like liquor is already wrong-headed. This question is about either doing what other states are already doing, or preserving a restrictive set of laws. The current laws don’t keep someone from alcoholism and don’t keep alcohol out of the hands of minors, they just make it tougher to see wine as a part of your grocery list.

As I explained to my daughters, strange laws result in strange workarounds. Like “cooking wine” found in groceries. These are pretty bad wines with salt added to make them undrinkable, skirting the laws. When you use them in a recipe, you reduce the salt you would otherwise add. That’s silly.

The current restrictions make no sense to me. I’ll vote “Yes.”

Fun Facts:

  • There are, apparently, 14 completely dry towns in Massachusetts
  • Wine health benefits have been found in scientific studies, but not to a degree that makes doctors comfortable about recommending wine consumption. There is a fear that already heavy drinkers would increase their drinking, since people tend to operate under the flawed “more is better” medical model.
  • Wine has some antibacterial properties that can protect people from intestinal pathogens, and can also act on the digestive system similar to the way Pepto Bismal works. Thus it’s reputation as a digestive aid.
  • A standard bottle of wine is .75 liters. At double the volume, a 1.5 liter bottle of wine is called a “magnum.” A 15 liter bottle is called a “Nebuchadnezzar” and contains the equivalent of 20 standard bottles.
  • There is at least one winery in each of the United States of America, but Turkey has twice as much vineyard acreage as the USA.
Posted by James at October 26, 2006 9:17 AM
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Having lived in NH for several years, I forget the inconvenience of buying beer/wine in MA. The grocery store even carries an OK selection of beer, so unless I want something special, I just pick up beer with the rest of the groceries.

(They have a pretty big wine selection too. I don't normally drink wine, so I can't tell you if the selection is any good.)

Posted by: Jim at October 26, 2006 9:29 AM

For me the compelling point is that the law is just not fair the way it stands now. There are 3 Trader Joe's and 3 Whole Foods in the state that can sell beer and wine, but not the others. That's not fair. My little corner market can sell beer and wine, and one of the big markets nearby, but not their competitors. That's not fair. Either allow ALL markets to sell beer and wine, or NONE, but not SOME. I'm voting YES also.

Posted by: Karen at October 26, 2006 9:30 AM

Sounds like a mix of puritanism and protectionism with a little prohibition on top. I'l probably vote yes on this question as well.

That said...

Mmmmm, Turkish wine.

Posted by: Chuck S. at October 26, 2006 9:55 AM

Is Turkish wine good?

Oh, I see. It's the "Mmmmmmm" joke!

Mmmmmmm, jokes.

Posted by: James at October 26, 2006 10:53 AM

Thank you for bringing this up. I was going to do so on my blog, but with more an "asshole" feel to it.

The main reason I'm voting yes is because I completely disagree with the campaign being issued by Liquor stores. Most of their bullet points on those annoying pieces of paper are total lies.

They make claims that every "corner" store will have alcohol and 15 year olds will be selling alcohol.

Stores need to meet certain criteria AND there is a minimum handling age of alcohol. If 15 was that age, Liquor stores would hire 15 year olds to increase profit.

There, I said it.

Posted by: Derek at October 26, 2006 12:30 PM

Most of the "no" arguments are based on scare tactics. I'd rather the liquor stores show more enthusiasm for how they will repurpose their existing shelf space that's currently stocked with the brands that would be easiest to find at the supermarket. They could use it to sell more exotic varieties of wine (or specialize in bum wines, LOL), expand their beer and liquor offerings, sell brewing hobby kits, etc. I, for one, am drooling at the prospect.

Posted by: Julie at October 26, 2006 12:47 PM

That's basically what will happen if this passes. The liquor stores will focus more on what they will have exclusively. Which means more variety. Which is better for the consumer.

No matter how you look at it, the consumer is going to benefit from competition via:

- Lower prices
- Better selection
- Value-added by liquor stores in the form of better service or different services.

That is, if the liquor stores are interested in competing.

However, that's from my standpoint as a consumer. If there are people who are worried about downsides of Q1, I'd like to hear from them, too. I've seen "No on #1" signs, but no arguments from anyone who isn't a liquor store owner.

Posted by: James at October 26, 2006 12:56 PM

Here in NH it is convenient to buy beer and wine in the grocery store. In MA it was a huge annoyance to have to go the "packy". In OR and CA you can buy it all in the grocery stores, and that was the best arrangement. :) If I was still in Glowstah I'd vote Yes myself. It's ok, honey's parents live in Carlisle and they and their contingent are also voting Yes.

Posted by: leslie at October 26, 2006 2:17 PM

At this point, I think it'd be more interesting to speculate on what percentage of the vote "No" is going to get. I don't know anyone who is planning to vote that way. Most everyone is licking their chops at the thought of one-stop shopping for Mad Dog/vanilla ice cream floats. ;-)

Posted by: Julie at October 26, 2006 3:21 PM

(That was a joke, of course. The notion of floating vanilla ice cream on a tall frosty mug of MD 20/20 is absurd. Of course you would put it on the blender.)

Posted by: Julie at October 26, 2006 3:23 PM

Please. Stop. Ugh.

Posted by: James at October 26, 2006 3:31 PM

I will vote no as I always do for ballot questons because I disagree with the whole idea of ballot questions. What do you think we live in a democracy or something? We don't it's a representative democracy. If you want something done call your congressperson.

I also don't want the law passed. I strongly suspect it will put many liquor stores out of business and will not have any of the benefits pointed out above. Wine prices will not go down, there is plenty of competition out there now. Selection will go way down. Supermarkets are not going to carry your favorite small winery they're going to have 600 bottles of Little Penguin (grape juice spiked with alcohol).

I'm sure beer will be next. Once liquor stores are out of business have fun getting yourself a bottle of liquor. You liked living in NH? Great did you like the half hour drive to get yourself a bottle of Scotch?

That said I wish the anti 1 people would make erasonable arguments instead of using scare tactics. Their ads are rediculous.

Posted by: B.O.B. (bob) at October 30, 2006 8:24 AM


I don't have a stake in Ballot question #1 because I don't live in MA.

But to say that it is a 30 minute drive to buy liquor is an exaggeration, at least for where I live. There are 4 state liquor stores in my city, and one really convenient one in the next town over. 2 are within a 5 minute drive of my house. One of those is in the same plaza where the grocery store is (competing with the grocery store for wine business.)

Why are the independent liquor store owners backing the opposition? Are they unable or unwilling to compete on a level playing field without government intervention? (These are the same guys who liked the law requiring them to be closed on Sundays.)

I'm all for supporting the local, independent businesses. I refused to shop at Wal-Mart at any price. I bought my appliances from the local guy. His prices were almost as good as the big box retailers, and his service levels were much higher. That was more than worth the slight price premium to me.

A place like Cardoza's is still going to have value add over Stop and Shop for someone like me. I can go in and ask for advice about wine, and they'll suggest something appropriate.

My point here isn't to change your mind, just point out that things aren't as bad as the 30 minutes to buy a bottle of scotch hyperbole would have you believe.

If there's one thing I agree with you about, it is the issue about whether ballot questions are the appropriate solution to any of these problems.

Posted by: at October 30, 2006 9:33 AM

Glad to see a dissenting opinion!

However, I don't agree that we'll see less selection. As Julie points out, more competition means more overall shelf space, and less need for different stores to carry all of the same stuff. They need to compete either on price or selection.

I think we owe it to the world to examine a couple of package stores now, and then check back in a year or so if the measure passes to see whether they've changed their selection. And to see what supermarkets start to carry.

Right now, the two supermarkets I know of that carry wine in this area have pretty decent selections.

In any case, for me it still comes down to partially lifting a restriction that I don't think helps the consumer.

I do agree that the anti-1 folks might have made some traction with me if their ads and arguments were less ridiculous.

Posted by: James at October 30, 2006 9:34 AM

The #13 comment was written by me. I didn't mean to be anonymous - somehow my name got dropped or I never entered it.

Posted by: Jim at October 30, 2006 9:47 AM

I am sympathetic to the ballot questions argument. We've seen some really boneheaded ballot questions in the past 10 years. The tax rollback was one. In fact, we had a ballot quesiton to completely eliminate the income tax some years ago. WTF? That would have been fun.

These decisions shouldn't be left to voters. And if anyone thinks this view brands me as an elitist, then look to any poll on what people believe.

An overwhelming majority of Americans believe in "the paranormal."

That is a frightening Halloween/election year thought.

Posted by: James at October 30, 2006 9:50 AM

I agree that ballot questions are a bad way to decide large or important issues, such as whether we should invade a country or take away a constitutional right. But I don't have a problem with using ballot questions to decide smaller state issues as long as the decisions don't unfairly benefit one part of the state over another.

Posted by: Mike at October 30, 2006 9:52 AM

well I can't seem to get any of the newer comments without posting another comment myself so here it is.

Posted by: B.O.B. (bob) at October 30, 2006 12:01 PM

OK so I can se the new comments now.

Jim - OK you don't have to drive a half hour. What if you live away up north? or 1/2 hour outside of a city. How about the fact that in NH the state has a monopoly on liquor? Supposedly stuff is cheaper in NH but I haven't found that to be true the few times I've dropped into a NH liquor store.

I don't see selection going up. there are two supermarkets and a number of convenience stores in the area now that sell wine (and beer for that matter). They have a fair selection of wine but by no means comparable to a good liquor store and their prices aren't any better. The mom and pop type small liquor stores will be gone since they survive now on the fact that they are convenient not on selection. The bigger liquor stores and specialty wine shops will be fine since they can rely on their better selection.

Mike- the problem I have with that argument is where is the line? Everyone will have their own line (gay marriage, taxes, wine, greyhound racing?) The fact is I don't want the average Joe deciding how things should be done. If you phrase the question right people will vote for it without thinking about consequences. "Would you like more money in your paycheck?" Well hell yeah. "Would you like more money in your paycheck if it means firing 3 policeman, two fireman and 7 teachers?" Oh well er no sorry about that i didn't think about the consequences.

Posted by: B.O.B. (bob) at October 30, 2006 12:28 PM
Jim - OK you don't have to drive a half hour. What if you live away up north? or 1/2 hour outside of a city. How about the fact that in NH the state has a monopoly on liquor?

Bob - I'm not saying that the way NH handles liquor sales are the best solution to the problem, but this is not what is on your ballot. (In fact, I've got a lot of gripes about the way things are done up here, liquor issue aside.)

The mom and pop type small liquor stores will be gone since they survive now on the fact that they are convenient not on selection.

If that is in fact what happens, then it is unfortunate for those small business owners. Especially if being in the liquor business was their passion. But in reality, the fact that they are selling liquor is an "implementation detail." They are in the retail, customer service business. If a business doesn't adapt and change to the changing customer landscape, it runs the risk of withering and dying.

But I'm still not following your argument. Earlier you said "selection will go down." Now you say the mom and pop shops have a lousy selection, but are surviving on convenience. What is it that these small shops provide that we need government to step in and protect from competition?

I don't think the right solution to this, or similar problems, is to have regulation that limits competition. You said NH effectively has a state monopoly on liquor sales. Isn't MA effectively granting a monopoly on liquor sales to small "mom and pop" shops? It isn't a monopoly in the traditional sense, but it does lock many others out of the market who would like to join.

I often don't like the consumer choices people make, and am fearful that one day I'll be forced to shop at Wal-Mart because that is all that will be left as a result of those poor choices. But having the government step in and make or limit those choices for us is no better - often the people who end up in power make really poor decisions too.

Posted by: Jim at October 30, 2006 1:47 PM

I used to live in a state where you could buy beer and wine at the grocery store or gas station. There were still plenty of liquor stores and it was easier to find uncommon brands.

Posted by: Julie at October 30, 2006 2:04 PM

How do the candidates for governor feel about ballot question 1?

Posted by: Laurie at November 2, 2006 10:34 PM

All 4 are unanimously opposed to question 1!!!

HMMM ... if they all agree on something than maybe, just maybe, they have actually researched the effects a little more than most of the bloggers. Do your homework folks. This is not the first swipe at the liquor laws that Stop and Shop has taken over the past few years. They have been setting their ducks in a row for a while now. This is not about the wine. This is about getting past the three license rule that everyone else abides by.

Posted by: Tim at November 2, 2006 11:23 PM

What does how long "they" have been "setting their ducks in a row" have anything to do with whether we should have this passed or not?

If the reasons we shouldn't pass Q1 are so obvious, why do we get so many bad arguments and more ominous-sounding vagueness?

Posted by: James at November 3, 2006 1:47 AM

Let me be clear about why I oppose Question 1: Choices.

Do you really think your local supermarket or Store 24 will offer more than half an aisle or maybe one whole isle of wine? No, they'll offer you a small selection of crappy mass-market wine.

Meanwhile, the independent wine shop that offers you many many aisles of wine from which to choose will feel the squeeze.

So, if all you want for wine is more Little Penguin and Yellow Tail, this is what you'll get. The only problem is, that's not what I want, but that's what a "yes" vote will force me to have.

And, by the way, one of the rudest parts of this campaign has occurred at my local shopping plaza. There are "vote 'yes' on 1" signs all over the supermarket parking lot. Yes, yes, we must have the "convenience" of buying wine in the supermarket, goes the campaign. One ad even suggests it'll "save consumers on gas."

Well guess what's right next door to this supermarket. A LIQUOR STORE with aisles and aisles of wine. How much more convenient can it be?

The piece in yesterday's Globe that said this is really all about money is spot on. Major supermarket chains want more of your money, and this is how they'll do it.

The Wal-Mart-ization of America continues. I don't need good quality wine or someone to ask about what type of wine I would like, I just want some cheap-ass wine to suck down. Too much choice is bad--please tell me what I can buy!

Sorry, but this ballot question just burns my ass. I'm for the little guy shop owner, and I'm for having many choices, not just the ones the megachains think I should have.

Posted by: Patti M. at November 3, 2006 11:02 AM


I can understand you not wanting to lose the choice that the current market situation provides you with. But if opening up the market removes that level of choice, who is to blame? Consumers. So what it boils down to is that this is a problem of consumer education, not government regulation.

It sucks when you are in the minority (and it will suck no less if that is what happens here.) But having government protected markets to precisely to serve a minority consumer base doesn't sound like the solution. In fact, it sounds like a dangerous precedent.

Posted by: Anonymous at November 3, 2006 11:27 AM

Have you been to any states that allow beer and wine sales in supermarkets? Have you had any problems getting the stuff you wanted?

When I lived in Seattle I remember seeing a huge selection of beer at the local supermarket, not just Budweiser and Coors. I kinda get the feeling that the whole "If this passes we'll all be forced to drink Acme brand McWal*Wine" argument just doesn't relate to reality.

Posted by: DG at November 3, 2006 5:03 PM

I agree. I actually had less trouble finding things that I wanted when I was in Florida. There was no shortage (or variety) of well-stocked liquor stores, on top of the surprisingly good selection at the supermarket.

I also remember a particularly nice wine shop in Winter Park with a great cheese selection. Our ability to buy beer, wine, and cheese at the supermarket didn't seem to pose any difficulties for them.

Posted by: Julie at November 3, 2006 5:12 PM

I would like to do two things, and maybe my blog readers could help me out here.

Check out your favorite liquor store, the one you currently go to most frequently. Examine the variety there.

People can post here the name and location of their favorite store. And a few words about the wine selection there (this part is somewhat subjective).

Assuming that #1 passes, In a year, we revisit the issue and see if our favorite small liquor store has closed or is in financial trouble. And we can report on what sort of wine is available in our most-frequented supermarket.

My prediction: The supermarket will, in fact, carry a lot of dross, but some markets will have a pretty good selection. (And when it comes to cooking, I have no problem using Yellow Tail or other Australian wine.)

And your favorite liquor store will still be doing OK.

Maybe not. But let's take the opportunity to observe (if the measure passes).

Posted by: James at November 3, 2006 5:28 PM

I pray that you're right. We shall see.

Posted by: Patti M. at November 3, 2006 5:30 PM

LOL, I said there was no shortage or variety of liquor stores. Obviously I didn't type that right. There was no shortage, and there was plenty of variety.

And I'm not embarrassed to say that I drink Yellowtail. I cook with Gallo. Oh well. I guess I'm one of the ignorant rednecks who will benefit from the rule change. I can't wait.

Posted by: Julie at November 3, 2006 10:22 PM

I bought a bottle of Bogle Petit Syrah the other day; it was $10.95 and I liked it pretty well. Maggie was joking with me that the bottle she bought for cooking with (I don't even remember the name and am too lazy to go downstairs and look) was a lot cheaper.

Anyhow, the day after I finished off the Bogle, I wanted a small glass of wine with dinner so I just grabbed the stuff Maggie had been cooking with. All I know is that it was red. Maybe a cabernet sauvignon. It had been on the counter for a couple of days. To my pretty forgiving tastebuds, it was pretty good.

A few years back I tried to study wines. But after some effort and study I have concluded I have dumb tastebuds when it comes to wine. But they're relatively happy tastebuds. I figured I ought to just come to terms with that.

Posted by: James at November 3, 2006 11:32 PM

My tastebuds aren't completely oblivious, but they made a deal with my wallet many years ago. (I am not privy to all the details.) It is nice to splurge on something special once in a while. I usually do for election night, in fact, though I tend to get something particularly cheap (Arbor Mist) or nasty (Cisco) if I'm expecting a bad outcome (I appreciate the hangover the next day; it suits my mood).

This time I'm gettin' something French. :-)

So, most of the time I admit that when it comes to wine, I'll probably end up buying the same stuff in a box at Shaw's that I normally would at Douglas Wine & Spirits. I'll still go to Douglas if I need something "special," though, and I'll still go there if I want beer or the hard stuff that I prefer. That's where they're already making most of their money off of me, personally, anyway.

Posted by: Julie at November 4, 2006 1:23 AM

Price often does not correlate to quality. Shopping at the Wine & Cheese Cask in Somerville is great. This store offers a fantastic selection, nearly all the wines I buy from them are under $10, and are freqently $6 to $8. They've got a great newsletter that explains all the wines they're featuring that month, and their staff is friendly and knowledgeable without being snotty--key, in my book. Their affordable and wide selection has enabled me to learn a lot about wine without wasting money.

Many wine shops offer tasting days, and this is another great way to learn about what you do and don't like.

That's the difference between shopping at a supermarket and a wine shop. The kid stocking the shelves isn't going to be able to help you, but the people who own and run the wine shop sure will--that's what they do best.

I find the arguments of "consumer convenience" and "saves on gas" specious for the reasons I mentioned earlier (most wine places near me are in the same plazas as the supermarkets). Supermarkets are looking to increase profits as they lose market share to megastores like Wal-Mart and CostCo, and increasing revenue from wine sales is one way to do that.

In the Sunday Globe, a person wrote a letter wondering where the wine will be in his store, and what will have to go to make the shelf space (the same thought had occurred to me). They're not going to knock down a wall and add a wine section.

Well, what will be will be.

Posted by: Patti M. at November 5, 2006 2:36 PM

If having bad wine stores would put good wine stores out of business, then there would already be no good places to buy wine. There are plenty of liquor stores that offer crappy wine selections. Prediction: if the supermarkets truly offer only cheap wine, the places going out of businesses are the ones that mainly offer cheap, crappy wine. Because, to compete, wine stores will have to offer an alternative. That means better wines at better wine stores.

Why do people already shop at the better stores, when some of the crappier places offer more convenience (closer to home, for example)? Because convenience is only one factor that people consider when buying wine.

You can't lump all wine buying into one category, even for one individual. Individuals like myself buy wine at different places for different reasons.

Example: this Foxhorn wine that Maggie bought to cook with. The cabernet sauvignon is cheap and really works well in red sauce. I want to be able to pick up a bottle, like that, at the supermarket when I'm buying groceries because otherwise I might not even think to buy wine. Why should I make a special trip to the liquor store to buy this ingredient in my ragu? And what if they only carry more expensive wines? Now I have to find a cheap wine store so that I can make my meat sauce. So I am rewarding the cheapo discount wine store.

When I shop at Auclair's down the street -- a place that carries wine -- I almost always buy wine to accompany meals. More wine buying is good for wine in general, including local wineries. I should think. If I shop at Stop and Shop I don't make the extra tip. I don't make an extra trip for wine.

I go to Cardoza's if I want help selecting a wine. And they're very helpful. just like I go to Marathon Sports if I need a running shoe recommendation. But Marathon Sports is not convenient to me, and I don't need an expensive high-quality running show for kicking around int he dirt. So I buy my every-day sneakers at the more convenient and less expensive Payless.

If Massachusetts were to have a law saying that sneakers should only be sold by licensed folks and not out of malls, I would be pretty pissed off.

(Truthfully, I am still a little pissed off at liquor stores that they wanted to keep the blue laws. It would be just desserts to face opposition on this law for all the BS they spread about the other one. However, my opinion on this stands on its own without need for a grudge vote.)

I don't think Q1 will hurt liquor stores, and I certainly don't think it will hurt access to good wines. On the outside, it will hurt liquor stores that focus on cheap wine, or refuse to increase their selection.

Posted by: James at November 5, 2006 3:19 PM

BTW - there is a regional aspect to this question.

Supermarkets can already sell wine. But only at 3 of their locations. So they're going to choose those locations carefully. From what I can tell, these locations tent to be located in higher-income areas of the greater Boston area.

So, certain areas are already enjoying the increased competition that has brought them liquor stores with a better selections and other benefits.

Why is it that there should be a law such that some areas will benefit from increased wine access in Shaw's and Stop and Shop, but other areas do not?

The Harvard Crimson staff seems to like Q1, and it's a fair bet that while some of them are bum wine drinkers, some are not.

Posted by: James at November 5, 2006 3:37 PM

WAKE UP PEOPLE! DO THE MATH! There are just over 1000 supermarkets in Massachusetts,and over 100 already sell beer and wine. The Ballot question will create almost 2900 new licenses. That is amost a 2-1 ratio that will make these new licenses available to shops that fit the unbelievably vague terms set forth in this bill to describe a supermarket. THEY WILL NOT BE SELLING PINOT GRIGIO IN THE COVENIENCE STORES. YOU WILL SEE WINE COOLERS AND OTHER ALTERNATIVE WINES THERE. My town which has 3 major markets will end up with 16 new licenses. IF THE SUPERMARKETS WERE NOT PIGS, AND BLINDLY FRONTING FOR THE CONVENIENCE STORE INDUSTRY THIS QUESTION MAY HAVE PASSED. I will be voting No on One, i HOPE YOU DO TOO.

Posted by: Hank at November 5, 2006 4:19 PM

No need to shout, but I guess you're very enthusiastic, and I like that.

But frankly, I don't get your comment. If you're trying to convince me, you're really going to have to address the concerns I've made pretty clear above, and not try more scare tactics. If you want to talk about vague, that word practically defines your comment.

- Why is a 2 to 1 ratio a bad thing for me?
- Why are wine coolers a bad thing for me?
- Why shouldn't I be able to buy wine to make spaghetti sauce in the supermarket?

You write:


...by which I assume you mean that if the law had been written more specifically, we might have seen a more palatable law that excluded convenience stores.

Guess what, it's not the supermarkets who are to blame. It's the liquor stores. It's clear the liquor stores have the motivation and money to try to reach a lot of people and oppose any change to state law that increases competition. They have an "I've got mine" mentality -- they have their license, they like the way the law is, they don't want more competition.

I'm guessing, based on your statements, that you think the supermarkets and the convenience stores are working together to try to get Q1 passed. Assuming that's so (and I have no other info on that) then the reason they would need to do that is to oppose a greedy and restrictive liquor lobby because supermarkets might have figured that alone they weren't strong enough to get a more specific question passed.

Judging by the repeated glossy card-stock mailings I'm getting anti-Q1, liquor store supporters are pouring money into this campaign.

We have a small local supermarket in Somerset which just closed its doors. Perhaps it would have stayed open if they'd been allowed to sell wine. We shopped there often; it was very convenient. That would have been more competition for Stop & Shop. It's not a simple equation, saying that S&S or other markets are huge ominous monsters trying to eat up the competition with this law. More options for Grand Central might have kept them in the game. Who knows - that's just speculation, really.

No, I'm more sure I'm voting "yes" on 1 every day.

BTW, your comment "THEY WILL NOT BE SELLING PINOT GRIGIO" pretty much discredits you. Why would stores spurn a particular style or particular grape? That makes no sense. I already know supermarkets which sell pinot grigio. There is nothing magic about it. Will every convenience store carry pinot grigio? I doubt it. But I already know one convenience store that does carry it, so you're full of BS.

Posted by: James at November 5, 2006 6:50 PM

Hanky, friend, I don't think you've read the ballot question.

For a "store" to now be considered to carry wine, you must meet the following requirements:

Direct from the question:
"(which must include meat, poultry, dairy products, eggs, fresh fruit and produce, and other specified items)"

Please note the words "must" and "and".

Let's move on to my next favorite phrase:

Direct quote:
"The licensing authorities in any city or town of up to 5000 residents could issue up to 5 licenses for food stores to sell wine."

Please note the word "could";

Next quote!
"Local authorities could set fees for issuing and renewing such licenses."

So, Hanky, become a town official, and reduce the number of licenses available in your town, and make it at some unattainable fee. Then you and your town win.

Hanky - I'm throwing out a question here: do you or someone you know enjoy a single bottle of wine with dinner on occassion? Do you or that someone you know have a child (or many children)? Do you or that someone have responsibilities throughout the day that make it difficult to pick up a bottle of wine to enjoy with your dinner?

Please understand the law, before being publicly displaying the lack of knowledge of that law.

I'm voting for John Kerry on question 1: and he'll quadruple the licenses granted and force every store to sell wine and cocaine. Fact.

Posted by: Derek at November 6, 2006 7:51 AM

Geeze I'm sorry I said anything about this considering I don't really have strong opinions one way or another about the supermarket vs. liquor store thing. I'll still vote no for the reason I gave in my 1st response. I don't think ballot i itiatives are a good way to make laws. I'd much rather see a discussion on that. It's exactly the reason we have representatives becuase then morons who haven't even read the question don't end up deciding on what becomes law. If womens rights and slavery had been put on ballot initiatives neither would have happened.

By the way I will give you an example of how supermarkets have less choice that happened to me last week. We went to dinner last week and I had a glass of Chilean wine called Carmenere taht I really liked. I'd had it before but had kind of forgotten about it and hadn't had any in a while. We were going to the Whole Foods in Wayland which happens to have a beer/wine liscence after dinner so I thought I'd see if i could pick up a bottle while i was there. I drove past at least 2 liquor stores on the way to Whole Foods (one was a Kappy's which has a HUGE wine selection).

this whole foods has the best Supermarket wine selection I've ever seen. Want to know how many Chilean wines they few from Argentina and that';s it.

They just don't have the shelf space to have a big selection.

I don't have anything against Yellow tail or Little penguin or any other wine, I think Concho y toro from Argentina make some great inexpensive wine. I just don't want that to be all I can get. I just have a feeling that more liscences is going to end up leading to less selection and higher prices on mid to higher end wine.

Posted by: B.O.B. (bob) at November 6, 2006 8:23 AM

It would be pretty boring if we agreed all of the time. Please keep posting opinions. Don't leave it to the ALL CAPS BRIGADE.

Posted by: James at November 6, 2006 10:33 AM

You obviously haven't read Maddox's "Alphabet of Manliness" He writes part of a chapter in all CAPS because it's actually courteous to do so.

CAPITAL LETTERS ARE EASIER TO READ!!!111 MIXing CaSE and small letters are for dummies.

Posted by: Derek at November 6, 2006 10:56 AM

Let's be careful about the practice of labeling voters morons. You have a point but too much of that attitude is dangerous. I would rather have an engaged populace debating a few minor referendum questions than an apathetic one that feels their participation in government is limited to one meaningless vote every four years.

Posted by: Mike at November 6, 2006 11:21 AM

It is very interesting to me that there is "moronic" behavior that comes out of collective activities sometimes. Mobs, for instance, can be made up of non-morons, but in the collective, a mob is a bunch of morons.

This is a whole separate issue, but seems to be a factor no matter what you think the intelligence of the average person is. Because people do cast votes for various conflicting reasons, it is possible to get moronic vote results.

A representative democracy is not meant to stop morons, it's meant to stop mobs from making bad decisions for everyone. So I really sympathize with the idea that certain issues are better decided by reps rather than votes. Especially with issues that are nearly always unpopular but necessary, like tax rates.

Where I disagree is in access to certain rights. I'm liberal, but I also want less government meddling in life if I can get it. So I tend to vote that way.

Of course, I'm imperfect in making some of those determinations, which is why I like to hear lots of opinions.

Posted by: James at November 6, 2006 11:43 AM

Sure, I feel the same way about representative government. That was a fairly recent shift in my thinking and I'm surprised I feel that way knowing that some representatives put their own interests before those of their constituents.

It is all too easy for me to grow overly arrogant and cynical about such the intelligence of my fellow man, especially when I hear so much venom and stupidity in the media, so I try to pull back whenever I cross the line. Unfortunately, the qualities I dislike in myself make it all but impossible to tolerate the presence of others who display them in greater measure.

Posted by: Mike at November 6, 2006 11:52 AM

I'm sorry but if you haven't made up you mind about how you are going to vote on the way into a polling place I reserve the right to call you a moron. Take a look at the numebr of undecideds on the eve of the election, especially on lesser known races.

i'm not saying all voters are morons and if the engaged populace who were debating a question were the only people who voted I'd have less of a problem with it. The problem I have is with people who show up to vote for say governor then without knowing about much about a question say "hey i can vote myself a tax cut" or "Hell no gays shouldn't be able to marry" or hell yes for that matter.

Posted by: B.O.B. (bob) at November 6, 2006 12:43 PM

So, I decided to talk to some Massachusetts and Rhode Island wineries to get their take on question 1. I am having a hard time getting an official answer after having sent email and left some messages.

But I was able to get someone on the phone who was not in a position to give me an official opinion, but was willing to give me his opinion as an informed person who had been working in the wine business, and had worked with distributors.

The reason I wanted to know what vineyards had to say was because these are more vulnerable and less numerous businesses than the local liquor stores and I often try to support both local wineries and local breweries.

In any case, we had a very long conversation. The guy is against Question 1, and he had reasons I hadn't considered, and perspectives from inside the business that I didn't have.

One thing, it was his opinion that the distributors already do not do a good enough job getting their wines into stores. So he doubts that Q1 will mean that local wines will seem more shelf space. He says they rely on "boutique stores." We talked for quite a while; and I don't want to say too much because he wasn't speaking on the record for his employer.

If people in the business don't think this is going to help local wine, then the current law may be a sort of beneficial protectionism. The part of the equation I was missing before is not that there will be less shelf space for local wine, but that there will be less percentage shelf space for it. (That is my determination, not the way he put it) More competition for them may just mean more of a crowd and less chance for people to discover local brands.

I am currently a lot less sure about how I ought to vote on Q1 thanks to BOB, Patty and this fellow. Considering my trouble in this regard, I wonder if I should vote at all on it.

Ideally, I would like to see our state work better together with local wineries. Especially here int he SouthCoast of MA, we have a winery and a brewery, and the area is somewhat richer for that.

So I've managed to argue myself into ambivalence currently on this. I really would not like to see local brands hurt.

BTW - the supermarket shelf-space argument doesn't compel me, mainly because when I go into many supermarkets around here I see aisles of toys and garbage. S&S, even in its smaller stores here, could have 2 whole aisles of wine without losing even one food item.

But I may not vote on this one at all.

Feh. This democracy thing is hard.

Posted by: James at November 6, 2006 2:31 PM

I am still on the fence about Question 1. On the one hand, the whole liquor distribution system in MA annoys me. If I goto CA, VA or even PA, and find a wine I like from a small out of the way place, then head home and try to find it, it may not be in liquor stores around here, then I ask my local store to order it they often say: "The distributors don't or won't carry that so we can't get it for you" So I go online and see that the winery is more than happy to ship said wine but the distrbutors spend millions to lobby state government to stop intrastate wine shipments straight to a person's house. (I believe we won out in the end tho). (What's that have to do with Q1 not much but it sets the stage that I am annoyed at the MA liquor industry).

Now enter Q1... Where do the distributors stand on this? Again in the corner for restricting where wine can be sold. If Q1 passes I don't actually believe that it will increase availability of new and different varietals of wine. That falls under the distributor's hat. Not the Liquor stores or Super Markets. The distributors decide what is available for sale in state.

It MIGHT bring prices down. But again I doubt it. Massachusetts already has pretty low prices on the "cheaper" bottles of wine. Being a wine drinker and living on the MA/NH border I've observed that a bottle in MA costing 5-11$ is generally more expensive (by a buck or 2) in NH. It's on the Higher end bottles that you end up saving money (15 bucks and up) in NH.

So I am having trouble seeing how the "better selection" and "Better cost" arguments are going to hold water if Q1 passes.

So where does that leave me? Alcohol is already pretty easy to come by. there are SO MANY varieties of wine out there that one store cannot hold them all. But I don't see Supermarkets getting eclectic. I like my local wine merchant a lot because I can go in there and talk about what I am looking for and get good recommendations.

In NH I often see liquor stores right near supermarkets and they both seem to be doing well. In fact Liquor stores in NH generally don't sell beer. just wine and hard alcohol.

So if it works there why can't it work here in MA? ARRHGHGHGHG... I'm so on the fence. leaning towards No (if it ain't broke don't fix it). Now if the Change were to help break the distributor's monopolistic practices then I'd be all for it :).....

Posted by: Hooligan at November 6, 2006 2:43 PM

Looks like I was crafting my post the same time you were James. The local winery person you talked to hit the nail on the head. It's the distributors that restrict variety and more shelf space doesn't mean more variety. Especially in the supermarkets where they just want to MOVE product at high volume. They will always go for the more popular brands. (that's how S&S in NH is anyway).

(What winery was it btw? I like to support local when I can if you don't want to post please fire me an email or if you'd rather not say that's cool too).

Posted by: Hooligan at November 6, 2006 2:50 PM

I had no trouble getting local beers in FL, though I was much more likely to find them at the liquor store than the grocery store. Don't know if it would work out the same for wine here.

I do recall seeing a few "local" wines at the grocery store; that is, they were made locally. I don't know if you can actually grow grapes in FL, but I guess you can get grapes from elsewhere, and you can certainly grow other fruits. The local wines were made from a combo of grapes and tropical fruits, such as carambola (starfruit).

I'm not going to vote NO on #1 just because the distributors suck. It seems to me like there is a big opportunity for any wine distributor that has good ideas - regardless of how #1 turns out. I don't know how the carambola wine people got their stuff into Publix, but it may have been something as simple as a mere phone call.

Posted by: Julie at November 6, 2006 3:02 PM

On the voting thing. I found this over on verbatim (thanks Karen, see it pays to lurk somethimes). I scored 343 out of 350. yay I can vote! http://www.dontvote.org/

Jay - I would guess Westport Rivers (I guess I shouldn't speak for James but I just did so there). they make some great stuff and I've actually seen it in a few local stores (Kappy's carries a couple of their wines). Sakkonnet also has a winery, as do Nantucket and Newport. Around us Nashoba Valley makes a number of wines, beers, ciders and distilled liquors. they're definately worth a stop sometime. I don't sound like too much of a lush now do I. Also while you can't have wine deliverer directly to you yet (legally anyway) I believe they are allowed to ship to a liquor store so if you are friendly with the folks at your local store you can probably get stuff shipped to them.

Posted by: B.O.B. (bob) at November 6, 2006 3:07 PM

I contacted a number of local vineyards, including ones in Rhode Island. I don't want to say who responded informally, but the owners may have been leery of blindly wading into a political comment, so those in charge have not gotten back to me.

There is a chance of pissing people off, and they need local customers.

Posted by: James at November 6, 2006 3:30 PM

Oops sorry. I was speculating and shouldn't have. I could be completely wrong. Still Jay all of those local wineries are worth looking into.

Posted by: B.O.B. (bob) at November 6, 2006 4:06 PM

'Course I could not vote on 1 and if it passes, specifically ask my local supermarket to carry certain local wines that I want.

Or, vote yes and do the same.


Posted by: James at November 6, 2006 6:32 PM

Are we completely blind to the real issue with this Ballot Question 1 regarding selling wine in grocery stores?

Large Grocery stores think that Question 1 will create fair competition in the liquor market. The current formula allows X number of licenses per X number of residents. How does creating a new group of licenses solely for one corporate entity equate to fair competition?

How is it fair when large chains use their political influence and substantial financial resources to put themselves first in line in front of Mr. Joe Public who has been waiting, for what often turns into years, for that next liquor license to become available?

Creating special licenses and conditions for wealthy enterprises is a basic definition of UNFAIR COMPETITION. Ultimately Stop & Shop, Shaws, and the like are venders looking to make a profit just like any other vender regardless of size or economic backing.

If we really want to be fair, Ballot Question 1 is NOT the answer. Why not eradicate the outdated 1934 law allowing only three liquor outlets per chain and let Stop and Shop wait in line for the next liquor license to open up RIGHT BEHIND Mr. Joe Public!

Cities and towns ultimately know what the people living within their perimeters want. If there were a demand for fifty percent more liquor venders there would currently be fifty percent more liquor venders. There is no such demand.

Now letís talk about these ads that the grocery stores are running stating that the vote no ads centered on public safety are "ridiculous." What is ridiculous is that a state that was so eager to make it harder for young people to get licenses, due to increased drinking and driving accidents, is now in the same year considering making it easier for them to get their hands on alcohol.

Then they argue that "it's just wine." No alcoholics consume wine? No underage children would ever drink wine? False. Most alcoholics and underage individuals will consume what ever they can get their hands on. Grocery stores would lead you to believe that the only individuals who have ever bought a bottle of wine do so to have with dinner once in a while. Why then are there Four liter, Seven dollar bottles of wine manufactured? Explain that to me.

This ballot is selfish and under thought. There are already 3,000 liquor outlets for our police to cover, can they handle 3,000 more? Does the community want 3,000 more? Do we even have a supply/demand for 3,000 more? Do we realize that 2/3rds of these licenses would go to convenience stores?

Also, one of the biggest arguments for the passage of this ballot is that we are one of three states who does not have this already. Liquor is regulated differently in every state and while we may not have wine in grocery stores, we also do not have state controlled liquor like many other states have. I highly doubt that there is a state out there with a similar population to us that has 3,000 more liquor outlets than we do.

First wine, next beer. Guaranteed. They are ultimately just trying to shift control of the market from small independent local business owners to the Stop & Shop Denmark headquarters.

This campaign for Ballot Question 1 is intelligently calculated but is ultimately a big business tactic of self interest. Bottom line.

Posted by: Caitlin at November 6, 2006 11:43 PM
If we really want to be fair, Ballot Question 1 is NOT the answer. Why not eradicate the outdated 1934 law allowing only three liquor outlets per chain and let Stop and Shop wait in line for the next liquor license to open up RIGHT BEHIND Mr. Joe Public!

OK. Good question. Why don't we have this law to vote on?

It occurs to me: When you rely on what is possibly an unpopular law to protect your business, you have to be proactive in changing the law to make it more friendly to consumers. You leave youself vulnerable to ballot questions like Q1.

Because people resent having their choices limited for reasons that are not apparent to them, and they resent being treated like they're stupid just because they want access to a certain product in a certain way.

It makes a business vulnerable, and so they ought to have been proactive on that with a better law. But I suspect that the liquor stores would never want to see any ballot question that let more markets offer wine, even if it were a better initiative than this. Especially if it were a better initiative than this, because a bad initiative is easier to fight.

In this, perhaps the liquor stores have made a strategic error in relying on outdated laws to protect their business.

Posted by: James at November 7, 2006 12:45 AM

Large Grocery stores think that Question 1 will create fair competition in the liquor market. The current formula allows X number of licenses per X number of residents. How does creating a new group of licenses solely for one corporate entity equate to fair competition?
If we really want to be fair, Ballot Question 1 is NOT the answer. Why not eradicate the outdated 1934 law allowing only three liquor outlets per chain and let Stop and Shop wait in line for the next liquor license to open up RIGHT BEHIND Mr. Joe Public!

Caitlin, I hadn't even thought of this--I've missed a big part of the picture.

I think of the town I used to live in, Maynard, MA. At one time, they had the most bars per capita in the state, and the town decided to reign in the licenses and lessen the number available--this changed the character of the town in a very positive way. Liquor licenses are tightly controlled in this town, and some restaurants stil do not have liquor licenses because one hasn't become available yet.

To Caitlin's point, Question 1 would allow markets to "cut the line," and that's not fair. Thanks for pointing this out, Caitlin.

Thanks also to James who discussed how this would affect the small winery--another point I had not considered.

Thank goodness it'll all be over after today. What a touch election season this has been! Now, I'm off to take the www.dontvote.com quiz.

Posted by: Patti M. at November 7, 2006 8:39 AM

Yay, I got an A+ on my www.dontvote.org quiz!

"You scored 350 out of 350 possible points, or 100.00% A+"

"Not only should you vote, you should consider a career in politics."

I've thought about it, believe you me!

Posted by: Patti M. at November 7, 2006 8:46 AM

Ultimately, I like seeing wine in a grocery store because it reinforces the concept that wine goes with food. (And food goes with wine!)

One last blathering on the subject of Florida: I never heard of Yellowtail or Little Penguin before I came here. Maybe they're relatively new (I got here 3.5 years ago so maybe it was just a matter of timing). Or maybe those brands just didn't fit well into either the liquor store niche or the grocery store niche.

I was at the liquor store last night and noticed that there was literally a whole row's worth of bins dedicated to just those two brands. I had to ask someone in the store if there was any chenin blanc in the store, any chenin blanc at all. They had ONE. (And it's not the one we brought to Bob & Patti's, unfortunately.) I realize it's not a popular variety, but just think, if they let the grocery stores carry YT and LP instead, someday they might carry TWO chenin blancs.

I'm also in favor of anything that will encourage my grocery store to get rid of its "everything's a $1" aisle.

Posted by: Julie at November 7, 2006 8:49 AM

What was that chenin blanc you guys brought to our house? It was fantastic!

Posted by: Patti M. at November 7, 2006 10:21 AM

I wish I remembered, Patti. James can tell you which store we found it in, and that may narrow it down quite a bit since I don't think they had more than a few to choose from.

I believe it was from South Africa, but I could be wrong.

I went looking for it at my local store. I was hoping I'd recognize the label. That would be a long shot at best since pretty much all I remember was that it had a plain (or "elegant" - no cutesy pictures) label. The one I got last night had a more "artistic" label, plus I wasn't crazy about what was inside, so I don't think that's it.

Posted by: Julie at November 7, 2006 10:28 AM

It was Julio's in this shopping center. In Westborough off Rt 9.

I called them and had the wine guy list the types of chenin blanc they carry. They don't always have all of them, but the name "Dry Creek" rang a bell. He says that one is always stocked. It's got a picture of a sailboat on it.

Was that it, Julie?

If not, at least we remember where we got it.

BTW - I didn't remember the name of the liquor store, but I found the place by looking at a satellite picture, then doing a Google search on the name of the roads that cross there.

Posted by: James at November 7, 2006 11:38 AM

can't refresh commetns again

Posted by: B.O.B. (bob) at November 7, 2006 11:46 AM

How funny. We're on Julio's email list!

We'll have to check out this wine. Thanks for the research!

Posted by: Patti M. at November 7, 2006 11:53 AM

One final note on local wineries and Q1.

None of the wineries I contacted responded to my emails or phone calls to tell me how they thought the ballot measure would affect their business. I find this a little surprising.

My conclusion is that they are neutral on the question, or figure it's not important enough for them to give me an official opinion.

I appreciated the long personal conversation I had with one vineyard employee, but how difficult is it to say "we think Q1 will help our business" or "we think Q1 will hurt our business" or "we just don't know how Q1 will affect our business?"

I think the best way to support local wine is probably to buy local wine, not vote to keep wine out of markets.

That's how I'm going to support local wine and beer in the future.

Posted by: James at November 7, 2006 11:55 AM

I don't remember any pictures on the label and wouldn't have been drawn to a sailboat, but it's possible.

Honestly, if I had had any idea that my semi-random choice was going to be good enough to be memorable, I would have paid more attention! I was just thinking "Chenin blanc is nice on a summer day. I hope they don't think it's gross!"

Posted by: Julie at November 7, 2006 11:56 AM

Yellow Tail and Little Penguin are both relatively new to the market. I used them as exampkles because the seem to be the "hot" wines right now. If you're going to sell big you need a "cute" animal on the label.

Julie, I love Chenin blanc and South Africa does indeed seem to have the most of that variety. It's originally a Rhone wine I believe if you want to look for a Europen version. Last weeks Globe had I think the ken forrester chenin as one of it's best wines under $10. It's also sold as Steen. and maybe Gruner Veltliner. By the way Westport rivers used to have a chenin blanc called Riversong that I liked a lot but they don't seem to make it anymore.

Posted by: B.O.B. (bob) at November 7, 2006 11:57 AM

(To clarify: I didn't get an official answer from any of 3 local vineyards I called, though I had a nice off-the-record unofficial conversation with someone who works for a vineyard)

Posted by: James at November 7, 2006 11:57 AM

None of the wineries I contacted responded to my emails or phone calls to tell me how they thought the ballot measure would affect their business. I find this a little surprising.

They probably weren't sure what your motive was, or didn't believe you if you told them you were a private consumer who just wanted to know.

Lord knows there are some weird and nefarious things going on during this election cycle in the US--they probably were just being ultra super cautious not to get sucked in to a "Do you know what Winery Q said about Question 1 and isn't it awful" kind of email/internet blast.

Posted by: Patti M. at November 7, 2006 12:03 PM

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