Proposed Liquor Store Sparks Controversy

Business leaders worry that the proposed liquor super store planned for the second floor of the new Columbia Wegmans will shutter local businesses.


The proposed 10,000-square-foot liquor store that would be located on the second floor of the new Columbia Wegmans has drawn the ire of local retail liquor businesses that say the store may violate Maryland law.

The proposal for a Class A license for the store goes before the Howard County Liquor Board at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday. 

Steve Wise, an attorney for the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association, said it is the association's position that locating the new liquor store inside a grocery chain is against Maryland state law. He said he is unaware of any liquor store located inside a grocery chain in Maryland. 

Eric Stein, owner of in Hickory Ridge Village Center, said the issue with the new store’s application is knowing for sure Wegmans is not financing the store.

The store is by Ellicott City lawyer Mike Smith, who previously advised Wegmans on employment and labor issues in the Mid-Atlantic region. He said it would be called "Upstairs Wine, Liquor and Beer." If licensed, the store would occupy a 10,000-square-foot space on the second floor of the new Columbia Wegmans.

“We want to make sure this is a totally independent license application from Wegmans,” said Stein. “This is not about competition; there’s a world of competition in the alcohol business.” 

Stein said the liquor board must also consider if there’s a need for the new liquor store. He said local businesses like his store and others located even closer to the new Wegmans, such as , already satisfy the market and would lose a significant amount of business if the proposed store opened.

Stein said smaller stores would be at a significant disadvantage against a 10,000-square-foot store. Howard County law states that liquor store owners are not allowed to store large amounts of alcohol offsite from their store, according to Stein.

“Maryland has a quantity discount structure,” said Stein, “the more you buy, the more you save.”

He worries the new liquor store and Wegmans itself bucks the village center model that Columbia was developed on, which will lead many small businesses to suffer.

“What will happen to independent licensees who have invested life savings in this particular model?” asked Stein.

Chris Alleva, a Columbia resident and member of the Howard County Independent Business Association, also worried about the local small businesses being hurt by Wegmans and the liquor store proposal.

“Wegmans doesn’t get a license to eat the entire county,” said Alleva. “It is the antithesis of environmentally conscious development.”

He said rather than local residents walking or biking to village centers, residents from all over Maryland would be driving to Wegmans.

He said retailers are already less than enthusiastic about going to the back of village centers and he wondered how small retailers are going to compete against this mammoth business.

“They’re concerned their businesses will be irreparably harmed,” said Alleva.

Michaelwritescode May 01, 2012 at 03:45 PM
"He worries the new liquor store and Wegmans itself bucks the village center model that Columbia was developed on, which will lead many small businesses to suffer." I'm not sure if Mr. Stein has taken a drive through east Columbia up Snowden river lately. That area has pretty well already abandoned Rouse's vision of suburban residential areas surrounding a singular village center and is rather packed with commercial areas and strip malls (albeit pleasant looking ones). This is not to mention the fact that practically every village center competing with Wegmens (Owen Brown and Long Reach) both have liquor stores right next to their grocery stores accessible from the same parking lot. There is practically no difference between having the store on the second floor and having it separated by a thin layer of drywall. In fact this new Wegmens may entice more people to come up Snowden river and patronize the many, many wonderful restaurants and locally owned stores that feed off the traffic to the big box anchor stores. The issue really at stake here isn't Rouse's vision of Columbia but competition between liquor stores that don't want to compete. I'm sorry but as a consumer I see no reason to not support an attractive, large, locally owned liquor store just because of its proximity to a new grocery store.
MG42 May 01, 2012 at 03:50 PM
Dear government, Please protect my monopoly from competition. Sincerely, existing liquor store owners.
BOH May 02, 2012 at 06:41 AM
michael and ohai both hit the nail on the head. Where was all this outrage about the threat of big-box stores to small shops when those big-box stores were Target, CostCo, Best Buy, Lowes, and Home Depot? Why should liquor stores be the only ones that don't have to worry about competition from big-box stores? Personally I prefer indie stores, but the fact is that most indie liquor stores all primarily sell the exact same products, so there's nothing unique about them unless the person working there is knowledgeable about the booze and feeling up to having a conversation with the customer about it. Prices are nearly identical. In the end, there's almost zero different between any of these liquor stores, unlike an indie coffee shop or restaurant. If county and state governments are going to provide protection for the liquor store racket, why not go ahead and run Starbucks and Wal-Mart out of town? Sure, let's do it, but only if we can be consistent and within the law.
Don Oliver May 02, 2012 at 11:48 AM
The Giant in Lanham, MD sells beer and wine. In most states grocery stores sell beer and wine. Why is Maryland so backward?
B Shah May 02, 2012 at 02:00 PM
@Ohai ,how much the wegman's people pay you to say all these? bcoz whatever you say it's foolishness
P90Noir May 02, 2012 at 04:52 PM
It’s bad enough that as a country we’re stuck with the Three Tier System and that Maryland has ridiculous liquor laws that keep chain stores out of the market. The last thing we need is a mob of currently operating stores banding together to keep newcomers out. So rather than improve their service and offerings, these stores fight to make sure that consumers have limited options and pay too much.
bob davis May 02, 2012 at 06:52 PM
Because the liquor lobby pays the politicians to keep i that way.
bob davis May 02, 2012 at 06:52 PM
Really? It's not about keeping out a competitor?
Richard W. Boss May 03, 2012 at 07:13 AM
If the exiting stores had the selection that made them worth visiting, I would patronize them. As it is, I have to go out of town for the majority of the labels that I prefer. When I do find what I want locally, I have to pay at least ten percent more
A J May 08, 2012 at 02:03 AM
forget the hoopla about big stores getting liquor license and hurting small stores not only in the county but in the state. Is nobody getting whats wrong with the picture here? The guy, "MIke Smith" told the board under oath that he has not done any background checks on his 90% partner and denied to know much about him. He claimed that he did not know his wife, Collen Wegman. I mean, seriously......You have been a Wegman attorney for over 10 years and you are getting money for your liquor store (90% NOT 10%) and then you claim in front of the board that you don't know that the guy you are getting money from is husband of Wegmans' President then I am sorry but I can only call it a LIE, nothing short of it. My real problem with this guy getting a liquor license is HE IS CLUELESS. He did not know who was going to sign the credit app for the store, he did not know who was going to hire and fire, he did not EVEN KNOW who was going to place order, he did not know how much inventory he would require (first time the question was posed to him he said TEN THOUSAND DOLLARS), he did not know how far the cafe seats were going to be from the door of his store.....I mean c'mon you don't provide a liquor license to such a clueless individual. For all we know, he might duplicate what Wegmans did in PA, put vending machines with Alcohol in them....SO IRRESPONSIBLE. At least, we know that our local stores are responsible and own up to their mistakes, if they make it. THIS LICENSE, BAD IDEA...
Annoyed123 May 13, 2012 at 04:37 PM
What specious arguments being presented here. VA's supermkts sell wine and spirits and everyone benefits. What concerns me here is the male dominated perspective. I don't notice you trying to take care of the kids, run errands, navigate the grocery stores and in trying to create a nice dinner for you, maybe purchase a nice bottle of wine. But instead of being supportive and giving us the relief of not having to travel to one more store, you're fighting over territory. How typical. Try thinking of others for a change.


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