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Wine With Your Wegmans? Second-Floor Liquor Store May Be on Tap

The store will be run by a third party in a leased space on the second floor of the new Wegmans.

A proposal for a 9,950-square foot liquor store to be located on the second floor of the Columbia Wegmans and run by a third party will come before the Howard County Alcoholic Beverage Hearing Board on May 1.

The man who is planning on running the store, Ralph Michael Smith, announced his plans for the package store in a detailed post on the “I Want The Columbia, MD. Wegmans” Facebook page on April 22.

In an interview with Patch, Smith said, "What we're trying to do is create an opportunity for consumers to broaden their horizons in the types of wines, craft beers and liquors they've become accustomed to drinking."

Jo Natale, media relations director for Wegmans, confirmed the space on the second floor in the store has been leased by Smith. Smith said he signed a one-year lease with Wegmans that is contingent on the proposal being approved by the liquor board.

Smith, 64, is a labor attorney who has advised Wegmans in the past. He said he advised Wegmans managers on labor and employment issues when they began their move into the Maryland and D.C. region.

Smith's plan is to sell a large variety of wine, liquor and beer at the store, which will be called "Upstairs Wine, Liquor and Beer."

He wrote in his post on the Facebook page: 

It will be different from other liquor stores around here in several ways. First, it will be large – just under 10,000 square feet so I will be able to offer the widest variety of wines, beers, and spirits available anywhere in this area. There will be great wines for under $10, as well as some that cost hundreds a bottle. There will also be craft beers from the very best breweries all over the country, and excellent single malt scotches, limited-release bourbons, and other fine liquors.

If approved, this will be Smith's first liquor store. He said he learned about varieties of beer, wine and liquor through his travels and as a home brewer.

He said he has been brewing his own beer for 20 years and making his own wine for 15. He said he'd like to model the store after Home Depot, offering a wide variety of wine, beer and liquor, but the store will also offer classes and tastings.

In the Facebook post, he asked local residents to support him at the liquor board hearing.

“I expect a lot of opposition from owners of the existing liquor stores in the county who don’t want new competition,” wrote Smith. “They are very organized so I think many of them will show up at the hearing and be very vocal.”

Smith said he's ready for the fight.

"I've been a trial lawyer for 35 years," said Smith. "If they have objections that they want to press, I'm capable of defending whatever challenges they have to my license application."

He also said he's retained counsel who specialize in liquor license applications.

The hearing takes place on May 1 at 6:30 p.m. at the George Howard Government Building in Ellicott City.

Smith said he's not sure yet if the liquor store will be ready to open along with Wegmans on June 17. He said if he's granted the liquor license, opponents of the store may file an appeal that could delay any attempts to open.

"If they don't file an appeal, within six to eight weeks I can be open," said Smith.

What do you think of Smith's proposal?

Laura Moreno-Hill April 27, 2012 at 01:04 PM
I think most residents in Columbia were hoping for Wegman's to offer liquor so this just may be the next best thing. I for one love Perfect Pour but would be excited about something closer to a Corridor Liquors (Laurel, MD) -- wide selection, great prices, warehouse feel -- right in my own backyard!
Not Fooled April 27, 2012 at 01:17 PM
Smith is just a shill for Wegmans. He will pay all his profits in rent so it will be a defacto Wegman's store. No one signs a ONE YEAR lease for an investment of over $1 million. I'll bet that at the end of the first year the store will be transferred to a Wegman's family member. It's a shame how this family owned company slaps the intentions of lawmakers in the face by blatantly skirting regulations everyone else must adhere to. Wegman's, like Google = DOMINATE.
Lilah April 27, 2012 at 01:45 PM
I am against selling liquor in grocery stores. Everyone has to go to the grocery store and there are people such as recovering addicts that need to stay far away from alcohol. I prefer that liquor be purchased in separate stores.
Harry April 27, 2012 at 02:00 PM
The plan for a separately owned wine & liquor store above Wegman's is ingenious!!! Cudos to Wegman's and my sincere best wishes to Mr. Smith. The wine/liquor store/ wholesaler lobby has owned the Maryland legislature forever! As a consequence, stores like Wegman's (whose business model in other states benefits from wine/liquor profits),Trader Joe's, Costco, other supermarkets, and chain stores of any kind are prohibited from selling wine, etc. in most counties. When is our legislature going to free itself from special-interest influence?????? You can bet they will be pressuring the Howard County license board with all their strength.
Ray Hallman April 27, 2012 at 02:01 PM
Yeah drugs like this ARE legal, but it would be upstairs away from the maddening crowd. Yes, I do agree that it would be better to make ALL non medicinal drugs illegal thank you.
Michaelwritescode April 27, 2012 at 02:57 PM
Three existing business within the Wegmen's sphere of influence in east Columbia are certainly going to be heavily hurt by the opening of this store. They are Dobbin Liquors, Snowden River Liquors, and another liquor store I cannot recall the name of on the corner of Oakland Mills and Berger Rd - all within a very short 5 minutes of the new Wegmen's location. Personally I very much look forward to doing my grocery and alcohol shopping in one place and am always somewhat bothered by the limited selection of these existing small liquor stores (though I'm sure the owners would help you special order stuff if you really wanted - they seem nice enough).
Roux's Pal April 27, 2012 at 06:18 PM
Wonderful news! We should all support such enterprises - good for Smith. Competition is a good thing - it's what this country is founded upon and we should all support this venture.
BOH April 28, 2012 at 12:41 PM
Lilah, what kind of nonsense is that? Most other states in the nation allow alcohol sales of some sort, even if just beer or just beer and wine, and there's no real case to be made that this exacerbates any problems with alcohol abuse.
randomobserver April 28, 2012 at 03:53 PM
Not IN the store, on the second floor of the store. Not any different than there being a liquor store in the same shopping center as the Giant stores, etc. I'm all for convenience, so bravo!
Jim Fletcher April 28, 2012 at 04:16 PM
Beware, if you live in Columbia, you might want to rethink your support for this behemoth liquor store at Wegman's. Personally, I am not against having the store. But if we allow these big stores to run the small village stores out of business, we are the ones who will suffer. Our community centers will decline even more than they have already in the recent past. It may be that sometimes we need to pay a little more to support our local merchants, some of whom live right here in Columbia. In doing so, we help retain the integrity of our communities. Unless someone should think I have something to gain out of this comment. I do not, other than being a concerned member of the Columbia community.
Megan Fran April 28, 2012 at 06:16 PM
Personally, I think this is a really sneaky legal move that makes me think less of Wegmans. This community was founded around community village centers, each with a grocery anchor. I think it's great to have other supermarket choices, but I hope not at the expense of independent liquor stores and the convenient grocery chains which may have to close more stores like SuperFresh did. There's a great liquor store in the strip mall with Asean Bistro and Dunkin' Donuts at 108 and Centre Park Drive near Giant. But that's NEAR Giant, not in the same building or even next door. If the Liquor Board allows this, the other grocery stores should be able to carry at least beer and wine. at least. There's no difference between a liquor store 2nd floor of the Wegmans building, because Wegmans will be occupying that floor as well. This is simply like another department. Not a level playing field for the businesses that have invested years in this community. I have my issues with Safeway and Giant (especially Safeway), but I remember there was nothing here when Giant opened its first store, which it's since closed, but it took a big risk buying into Jim Rouse's vision when that's all Columbia was. I personally find this an underhanded way to get around the rules everyone else has to follow.
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A J April 30, 2012 at 02:29 PM
After I read the whole article in Columbia Patch, I am amused by the lack of knowledge on the part of Mr. Smith. He talks about giving variety to Columbia residents. Has he stepped foot in about 5 stores within 10 mile radius of this proposed "Upstairs Wine & Spirits". You will be amazed with the variety those stores offer. From a socioeconomic perspective I don't understand why our civilization makes arguments that bigger is ALWAYS better. IT IS NOT......most of big stores are not able to provide the personal attention and shopping experience that adult beverage shoppers need. Also, I don't understand those who say that we welcome a liquor store within the confounds of a grocery store. I have two young daughters and until they are legal age, I would not allow my family to grocery shop in a store where regulated beverages are present.......upstairs, downstairs is all crap arguments. Additionally, I don't think Wegmans is responsible retailer of regulated beverages, for heaven's sake look at what they did in PA with liquor board there, THEY SET UP VENDING MACHINES with regulated beverages in them....I MEAN C'MON......This attorney dude should have advised them NOT TO DO IT. Moreover, brewing own beer and making own wine makes NO ONE an expert on how to sell them and sell them responsibly. Its a ridiculous thought that because "I have been brewing/making my own alcohol for years, I should get a license to sell them". THIS LICENSE IS A BAD IDEA BY ALL ACCOUNTS.....
Shrinath Desai April 30, 2012 at 03:59 PM
Dear Customers I am writing this e-mail to get your co-operation for the Hearing of Wegman's Liquor License Application. You can come and oppose that liquor license in Howard County Liquor Board. The Public Hearing is being held in the George Howard Building, Banneker Room, 3430 Court House Drive, Ellicott City, MD 21043. For further information, call 410-313-2008. We hereby OPPOSE the liquor license application by “Ralph Michael Smith and Columbia Wine Partners, LLC” which is to be located on the second floor of the new Wegman’s building. We submit the following reasoning for our opposition: 1) There is NO NEED for another liquor license in that location of Howard County. 2) This liquor store will damage the family shopping experience that we are used to as families of Howard County at a grocery store by introducing regulated products in family‐oriented shopping places. 3) We do not know how this store will abide by all county rules & regulations and still provide the same/similar shopping experience that we get a our neighborhood stores. 4) This liquor store with 10,000 square feet will be financially devastating for neighborhood stores in that area. Howard County is friendly to small businesses; we shall stay away from creating over population of these service providers. 5) Most of all, WHY DOES WEGMAN’S NEED THIS LIQUOR LICENSE?
Judy George May 03, 2012 at 12:29 AM
60 months. since when is 60 months a year?
M August 29, 2012 at 03:11 PM
This big store Conner market they raise price , I am against liquor sold at grocery store

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