BOSTON, Mass. (State House News Service)–While offering sympathy for smaller retailers, Treasurer Deborah Goldberg is citing her role regulating the alcohol industry as a reason for declining to take sides in a looming ballot question battle that could trigger a major shakeup in retail alcohol sales across Massachusetts.
The Massachusetts Package Stores Association is behind an initiative petition that over a decade would double the combined number of all-alcohol and beer and wine licenses that a company could hold. Under the proposal, the number of allowable licenses any one retailer could own or control would rise from 9 to 12 in 2023, to 15 licenses in 2027, and to 18 licenses in 2031.
Goldberg, who oversees the state Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission, said that agency executes laws governing the alcohol sector, offers advisory opinions, and makes decisions on alcohol issues as a quasi-judicial group. “I don’t have a position on this because truthfully, we’re a regulatory agency,” Goldberg told Bloomberg Baystate Business last week. “So it’s really an individualized approach for the voters to be thinking about.”
However, after declining to take a position, Goldberg said that if the motivation behind the plan is to fend off major industry players, like Total Wine, then that’s a “worthy one.” “I’m a big person in supporting mom-and-pop operations. And I think that having been an old-time retailer I believe that if you’re going to have large operators, they really have to have a connection to the community. At all tiers of the liquor industry in Massachusetts, it’s still a lot of family businesses and they contribute a great deal back to their communities and that’s something that should be supported and understood.”
Goldberg’s family learned the food business through Stop & Shop, a supermarket that she said has its roots in a grocery store in the North End that was opened by her great, great grandmother. A former Brookline selectwoman, Goldberg turned to public service after Stop & Shop went through a takeover.
The proposed law would also set a maximum number of “all alcoholic beverages” licenses that any one retailer could own or control at seven unless a retailer currently holds more than seven such licenses. That maximum license limit would begin in 2023. The initiative petition also explicitly prohibits self-checkout of alcoholic beverages and allows retailers to accept out-of-state IDs.
State election overseers reported earlier this month that the initiative petition was one of three whose campaigns filed certified signatures with the state by the deadline. Petitions needed at least 80,239 certified signatures from registered voters to keep their proposals in the mix for the 2022 ballot.