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Plymouth liquor store owners dispirited over new state law

By Caitlin A. Flaherty
On February 23, 2012

 

With the support of the local community five years ago, Plymouth liquor store owners defeated discount giant Sam's Club from selling alcohol in the town's limits, a move the mom-and-pop shops said could put them out of business.  But now, changes to the state liquor license law are once again threatening their livelihood.

 

Beginning this year, the new law allows the maximum number of alcohol licenses held by any retailer in the state to rise from three to five. The cap goes up to seven in 2016 and nine in 2020. This gives supermarkets and chain stores more opportunities to obtain licenses—competition that could ultimately harm many of Plymouth's 16 family-owned package stores.

 

"Inevitably, yes, this will affect us.  There will be the same amount of people shopping for alcohol, but more competition," said Jay Sorcenelli, who has helped run his family's business, Cedarville Wine & Spirits, since 2004.  "Anyone who owns a liquor store is going to suffer and that is fact, not speculation."

 

Sorcenelli said he is more concerned about chain liquor stores like Luke's Liquors and Kappy's Liquors expanding than he is about supermarkets selling alcohol. These stores pose such a threat because they buy from vendors in bulk at a cheaper price, which, in turn, allows them to sell for less. Sorcenelli said he is particularly worried about Arthur Luke's plan to open a Luke's Liquors just a few miles away in Bourne this May.

 

"People will travel farther to get these cheaper prices," Sorcenelli said.

 

Luke currently owns three stores on the Cape, and under the new law he intends to open two more, including the one in Bourne. While this frustrates some smaller liquor store owners, Luke said the legislation actually protects the mom-and-pop shops that have been "having a hard time" and have had to "do everything they can to survive."

 

He said the law was a compromise between package store owners like himself and large supermarket and convenience stores that were pushing the state to create a greater number of licenses.  Because of the compromise, more often than not, large retailers will have to purchase existing licenses from package store owners, he said.

 

"This benefits the smaller stores because now they will have the opportunity to sell and get something for the years of hard work they have put into their stores," Luke said.

 

Still, many small store owners have not entertained the idea of selling. For owners like Russ Whiting, the store is a part of his life and family history.

 

"I've never thought of selling. I like working in the store everyday and talking to people and the freedom of being able to go on the computer or walk my dog," said Whiting, whose family has owned Mayflower Package Store in Manomet since it opened soon after Prohibition. "Plus, my son is interested in carrying on the business."

 

To date, Lisa Johnson, administrative assistant for the Town Manger's Office, said she has not received any new applications for liquor licenses. Perhaps buying owners more time, the Town cannot currently administer any additional full licenses because it is over the quota. However, Johnson said Plymouth does have nine available wine and malt licenses and owners said these beverages account for a large part of their revenue.

 

"As of right now, no one has applied, but I imagine we'll start to see some applications soon. It's tough to tell because who knows which locations companies will choose to sell alcohol."

 

Owners, too, said they are not sure what to expect. Most said they are not too concerned with the immediate impact, but worry about trickle-down effects the law will have over the next several years.

 

Tony Colantonio, who assistant manages Pilgrim Liquors, believed the available wine and malt licenses could lead to trouble for his store down the road. If more stores obtain these partial licenses, smaller ones may lose business and be forced to close their doors, he said.

 

"In two or three years when small stores go out of business, that's when I'll be very concerned. Licenses will become available and there's the possibility that BJ's across the street will get one or a new store will open up close by and that will definitely hurt us," he said.

 

Whiting said stores that obtain wine and malt licenses would damage his store just as much as those with full liquor licenses because beer and wine account for 60 percent of his business. He said he is "apprehensive" about whether his store will survive another generation.

 

"I'm more concerned about the kids. I'm not sure if the way things are going, the store will make it," said Whiting.


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