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Past its shelf life Why it’s time to modernize New Jersey’s outdated liquor licensing laws

AJ Sabath, executive director of the Retailers for Responsible Liquor Licensing.

An NJBIZ Editorial on Aug. 9 entitled “A reminder that we need liquor license reform,” was on point in underscoring the need to update New Jersey’s antiquated liquor licensing…An NJBIZ Editorial on Aug. 9 entitled “A reminder that we need liquor license reform,” was on point in underscoring the need to update New Jersey’s antiquated liquor licensing laws. The lack of competition within New Jersey’s liquor industry is frustrating. Garden State liquor store monopolies perpetuate inequality within the industry and create barriers to promoting economic development opportunities at the local level. 

In an effort to join the 46 other states around the country that offer alcoholic beverages in supermarkets, a New Jersey coalition of supermarket companies, the Retailers for Responsible Liquor Licensing, is working to make this policy change.  Due to the tremendous opposition of the liquor lobby current law has not been updated in 50 years. Current law prevents an entity or corporation from owning more than two retail liquor licenses.  In response, RRLL is advocating for the enactment of a measure (A.2002) that would modestly increase the number of retail liquor licenses an entity or corporation may possess incrementally over ten years. 

Our efforts would not increase the total number of available licenses within the state — just incrementally modify the number of licenses an entity or corporation can hold.  Massachusetts used a similar bill as a model to upgrade incrementally their state liquor laws three years ago with great success and without harm to package good stores.

The alcohol beverage retailer and wholesalers have long claimed that any change to this antiquated law would put small stores out of business. The truth is one needs to look no further than the Route 17 and Route 4 corridor in Paramus and Ridgewood to observe two supermarkets selling liquor within four miles of almost 30 liquor retailers. A recent Monmouth University study found that among people who actively purchase alcohol, 76 percent of all New Jerseyans want the convenience of buying beer, wine and spirits in supermarkets.

The liquor lobby games the system to their advantage and systematically purchase dozens of licenses under mega liquor store brands. Two chain liquor retailers in particular each have 15 stores throughout the state, as they buy up liquor licenses through loopholes in the system.  Another liquor retailer has 25 licenses in New Jersey while a larger discount liquor chain store binges on 47 licenses.  Consumers are left with little to no choice and fall victim to higher prices by these liquor giants because they have no competition. The shelf life of the liquor lobby’s monopoly on the market has expired. It’s time to modernize our liquor laws now. 

AJ Sabath is a partner with the Advocacy and Management Group, a Trenton-based lobbying and association management firm. He previously served as the Commissioner of the N.J. Department of Labor and Workforce Development, chief of staff to Senate President Richard J. Codey and held several senior staff positions in the General Assembly and State Senate. He currently serves as the executive director of the Retailers for Responsible Liquor Licensing, a coalition of supermarket interests dedicated to reforming New Jersey’s discriminatory and anti-competitive liquor licensing laws in order to provide greater consumer choice, convenience and transparency.  

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