Bowie renews effort to allow liquor sales at specialty grocers -- Gazette.Net


To fulfill a long-standing desire for more specialty grocery stores in Bowie, city officials say they plan to once again push legislators to pass an incentive to attract the retailers.

For a third consecutive year, city officials plan to propose legislation when the Maryland General Assembly gears up in January in Annapolis that would permit the sale of beer and wine in small-scale Bowie grocery stores, said city manager David Deutsch.

Maryland Sen. Douglas J.J. Peters (Dist. 23) of Bowie proposed similar bills during the 2011 and 2012 legislative sessions. Both failed. Peters did not return repeated calls for comment.

City officials have had their sights set in particular on Trader Joe’s, a national specialty grocery chain based in California, since 2011, but said the company has been hesitant to open a Bowie store without promise of a liquor license, said city manager David Deutsch.

“It’s a store that we believe a number of Bowie residents travel to Annapolis and frequent. And we’ve had a couple of grocery stores close down,” Deutsch said, adding officials hope to fill a gap left by Giant at Pointer Ridge Plaza that’s been vacant for five years.

Last year’s bill applied to stores up to 25,000 square feet, Deutsch said, which excluded large grocery chains such as Giant and Safeway that are at least 35,000 square feet.

Mike Gaeta, store manager of the Trader Joe’s store in Annapolis, said liquor licenses are irrelevant in deciding where the company opens stores. The company has eight stores in Maryland, all of which are prohibited under state law from selling beer and wine, he said.

“That’s not a contributing factor,” Gaeta said, adding the company has no plans to open a store in Bowie. “Bowie’s only 10 to 15 minutes from [Annapolis] and our store in Columbia and there’s another store opening in [Washington, D.C.], so there’s going to be three Trader Joe’s within 20 minutes of Bowie.”

Deutsch said regardless if Trader Joe’s opens a store in Bowie, the fact that some stores in Prince George’s hold licenses while most don’t doesn’t make sense.

Under state law, grocery store chains cannot hold licenses to sell alcohol, according to officials at the Prince George’s County Board of License Commissioners. However, three county grocery stores — a Food Lion in Mitchellville, a Giant in Lanham and a Shoppers in College Park — have licenses they inherited before the 1996 state law banning them was enacted.

“It’s not just about Bowie,” said John H. King, Bowie’s head of economic development, adding beer and wine are becoming part of grocers’ standard products. “It’s an archaic regulation of the liquor industry.”

Deutsch said officials are open to adjusting the bill to include all of Prince George’s.

“Our goal is just to be inclusive, not exclusive,” he said.

Opponents to the legislation are mainly independent local liquor store owners, who say passing the bill would be detrimental to their businesses.

“Once you give the right to small grocery stores, then everyone will say, ‘Why don’t we get it?’ Then the lost leaders are the small business owners,” said Shawn Reddy, owner of Crescent Beer and Wine in Bowie that sells only beer and wine.

Deutsch said he doesn’t know when a 2014 version of the bill will be drafted or whether next year holds a different future for the bill.

“We’re taking one general assembly session at a time,” he said.