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.
"I think it will benefit not only the stores, but also the people," Baldasaro said. "It would bring in more money."
Dumais said passage of the bill, which goes before the full House on Wednesday, would increase cross-border sales. More Massachusetts residents would come to New Hampshire to buy liquor that would be less expensive and easier to obtain, he said.
But convenience comes at a cost — a social cost, according to Rep. Ronald Belanger, R-Salem.
There is a concern that liquor enforcement would shift to local police departments if the spirits are sold in food stores. It would also be easier for underage drinkers to acquire liquor.
"By putting it in the supermarkets and stores, it falls out of the control of the state," said Belanger, a retired police detective. "I just feel it would be too much of a temptation for youths in the state to go into supermarkets."
Belanger is also concerned state liquor stores could be forced to close.
But Dumais said the Liquor Commission would still regulate the sale and distribution of liquor. No additional enforcement is needed, he said.
"We don't see any need for more inspectors and licensing," Dumais said. "It's not our intent to close state stores."
Baldasaro is also critical of the Liquor Commission.
"They are just using a scare tactic," he said. "The Liquor Commission wants to protect their bubble. They don't want anyone to step in."
Commission Chairman Joseph Mollica did not return calls to his office Friday.
Gabriel Saba, manager of Nashua Road Shell in Londonderry, said being able to sell liquor would boost business at his store.
"It would definitely help," he said.
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