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March 5, 2012

Bill would let NH food stores sell liquor

New Hampshire residents may soon be able to stop by their local convenience store to pick up a bottle of booze.

If House Bill 1251 becomes law, the state would no longer have total control over the sale of most distilled spirits. The Granite State's grocery and convenience stores are only allowed to sell beer and wine.

But Rep. John Hikel, R-Goffstown, intends to change that. It's all about commerce and convenience, Hikel says.

And increasing cross-border sales, some say.

Hikel is having trouble convincing the state Liquor Commission to back his bill. It claims the change could cost the state close to $1 million a year in additional enforcement costs to make sure liquor doesn't end up in the wrong hands.

But Hikel and other supporters of the bill, including co-sponsor Rep. Al Baldasaro, R-Londonderry, believe the state is more interested in retaining complete control over the lucrative liquor industry.

"The time has come where the state should be sharing this prosperity with the businesses of the state," Hikel said. "They are just trying to protect their territory in a big way."

Allowing New Hampshire's approximately 1,400 grocery and convenience stores to sell liquor would boost the economy, Hikel said. It would also prevent many mom-and-pop businesses from shutting down during tough times, Hikel said.

"These small grocery stores are struggling every day," he said. "This is a great jobs bill."

Hikel said only being allowed to purchase spirits at the state's 77 liquor stores is inconvenient. People have to drive an extra five to 10 miles in New Hampshire just to find a liquor store, Hikel said. If buying liquor at a food store, they are likely to purchase other products as well, he added.

Baldasaro agrees. So does John Dumais, president of the New Hampshire Grocers Association.

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