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Food and beverage in N.J. Milk, bread … and beer? Large chain supermarkets and grocery stores are eager for the opportunity to add alcohol to their list of products

While updating liquor license laws for restaurants appears to be the main focus in Assemblyman John Burzichelli’s bill, some are now wondering if another stalled piece of related legislation that focuses on supermarkets and larger entities may also see some movement.

A.J. Sabath, co-founder of the Trenton-based Advocacy & Management Group, has his eyes on a bill originally sponsored several years ago by Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald (D-Voorhees) that aims to expand the number of liquor licenses currently available to large chain supermarkets and grocery stores.

New Jersey liquor laws currently limit publicly traded entities to having just two retail liquor licenses, serving as somewhat of a preventive measure to large retailers looking to expand their operations.

Greenwald’s bill calls for a gradual increase in the number of allowable retail liquor licenses, bringing the potential total for a large company to 10 licenses in 10 years post-enactment.

Sabath represents a coalition of supermarket interests that are advocating for that type of increase.

“The problem is New Jersey has a set of antiquated liquor license laws that haven’t been updated in over 50 years,” Sabath said.

The bill hasn’t gone anywhere in the state Legislature because Sabath said that many fear it will give the large chains too much power.

“The opponents of the bill claim that it’s going to put the little guy out of business. … The evidence just doesn’t show that,” Sabath said.

But why would Burzichelli’s bill, which primarily focuses on the so-called “little guy,” have any positive crossover effect onto Greenwald’s bill?

Sabath said any discussion that calls the state’s outdated liquor laws into question is a step in the right direction.

“If anything, it helps our interest in that it raises awareness that our liquor licenses are broken,” Sabath said.

New Jersey residents have voiced their opinions on this matter in the past. A 2010 Monmouth University poll found that an overwhelming 76 percent of people who say they purchase alcohol would like to see liquor in grocery stores. Even with those that don’t identify as purchasers of alcohol, a majority 56 percent of all residents claimed to be in favor of it as well.

Proponents also point to a study done last month by the Arlington, Virginia-based Food Marketing Institute, which claims that a similar Massachusetts law passed in 2012 has had no ill effect on liquor stores and that some $16.9 million in new economic activity has since been reported, in addition to 150 new jobs.

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Andrew George

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