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Connecticut liquor wars: an enduring, vitriolic battle

| Sep 27, 2017 | Business Formation & Planning |

No love lost here.

“Here” is Connecticut, with the referenced enmity being eminently on display between the state’s many liquor package store owners on the one hand and behemoth-sized sellers — Total Wine is the Goliath most notably despised by smaller retailers — on the other.

Notably, and is true with virtually all wars, the civilian populace stands vulnerable in the middle, paying the ultimate price for extended conflict.

And the price for that conflict couldn’t be more literally denoted, given the dollars-and-cents realities attendant with every bottle of alcohol purchased in the state.

Bottom line: Connecticut’s 1,100-plus small package stores collectively command a lot of clout, as evidenced by their successful efforts to repeatedly beat back opposition to the state’s controversial minimum-pricing law.

Smaller retailers plausibly make the argument that, without a minimum pricing threshold for products, they would quickly go out of business under the onslaught of powerful competitors like Total Wine.

And Total Wine and other larger players just as plausibly counter that price controls are anti-competitive and hurt consumers.

Total Wine sought to drive home that point with force recently via a marketing campaign that temporarily challenged state law by selling alcohol at prices lower that those legally mandated. The company ultimately settled the matter, agreeing to pay a $37,500 fine.

Although smaller rivals expressed satisfaction with that outcome, one industry principal added that “we have uncovered several new issues dealing with Total Wine that we will be exploring in the future.”

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has refrained from criticizing Total Wine for its business strategy. The state’s top official has strong and oft-cited views on minimum pricing, which he condemns as a harmful economic chokehold on Connecticut and a “backwards and illogical” law that has no counterpart in any surrounding state.

Unquestionably, liquor law in Connecticut is a lightning rod for public debate. Questions or concerns regarding any aspect of liquor-related state laws and regulations can be directed to a Connecticut attorney with proven experience in this complex and singular legal realm.