Back in the 1980s, a law was passed which prohibited booze from being sold in Maryland grocery stores. At the time that this law passed, four MoCo supermarkets were allowed to be the exception due to a grandfather clause: Shoppers, Giant, Safeway, and Magruder’s. However, these stores are only allowed one location each to sell beer and wine. For a while, two 7-elevens in the county also sold beer and wine, but that permission was revoked after legal battles. Some specialty stores, that are also considered grocery stores, also sell beer and wine (Balducci’s, Roots, etc.).
Currently, all counties in Maryland have dry grocery stores with the exception of : Caroline County, Prince George’s County (one location allowed per store brand), St. Mary’s County, Talbot County, Wicomico County, and Worcester County.
In 2018, Comptroller Peter Franchot urged Maryland to allow alcohol sales in grocery stores. He planned to propose a bill to loosen regulations, but this plan was stopped in its tracks after setbacks with other alcohol reforms.
A bill was introduced by District 15’s Delegate Lily Qi in February of 2021. The bill would have guaranteed access for a Class A beer and wine license for grocery stores in specific areas and make it allowable for grocery stores in other areas to obtain these licenses as well. The areas with guaranteed access, labeled as “areas of priority funding”, have fewer grocery stores and residents are less readily able to access fresh food.
Besides allowing easier access to beer and wine in grocery stores, proponents said that this bill would encourage new grocery stores to move to certain areas because they would be incentivized by the guarantee of having a beer and wine license. In turn, this would allow residents to have easier access to new sources of fresh food.
The bill stated that in order to be eligible for a Class A license, the stores must offer a full line of food products in at least six different categories– some of these categories include fresh fruits and vegetables, uncooked meat/poultry/seafood, dairy products, and more. Other stipulations include that at least 50% of the square footage is dedicated to the sale of food or (non-alcoholic) beverages.
The county council spoke for around 40 minutes about this topic at the February 22nd, 2021 County Council meeting before eventually deciding to table their decision. One of the main factors that came into play was that the discussion of the bill was added as a last minute agenda item and council members were not provided with a briefing beforehand.
Some council members support the bill, Councilmember Hans Riemer said it was “long overdue.” Councilmember Andrew Friedson asserted that “residents are understandably confused about our complex alcohol laws, probably the biggest one they’re confused about is why they can’t purchase beer and wine in grocery stores– this is a rare restriction across the country.”
Some members raised concerns– including that it could be detrimental to small businesses. There was a worry that a large store such as Costco would be able to offer beer and wine and that smaller stores would not be able to compete with the low prices. However, the bill states that only stores “for which the premises do not exceed 15,000 square feet” would be admitted a license under this bill. (For reference, a typical Costco is anywhere from 73,000-200,000 square feet and would far exceed this limit.)
Ultimately, the council decided to table any further action until their next meeting, largely due to having a lack of time to read more about the bill. On March 17th, 2021, the bill was withdrawn by Delegate Lily Qi. As with many bills, we expect this one to be tweaked before it gets reintroduced in 2022.
Featured photo courtesy of Michelle Katz