Beer at NJ convenience stores? Lawmakers consider liquor-license changes
Depending on who you ask, New Jersey's current liquor-license rules and caps are antiquated and ludicrous ... or they're the best around.
New Jersey lawmakers this month wrapped up a series of hearings aimed at gaining testimony from folks in the alcoholic beverage industry on what, if any, changes should and can be made to the way liquor licenses are doled out.
Whether any adjustments will actually be made is up in the air for now. But the legislator who chairs the committee examining the matter believes an update is necessary.
"I think there's some opportunity here to think creatively, but whatever we do, we have to do it surgically," said Assemblyman Joseph Danielsen, D-Somerset, chairman of the Oversight, Reform and Federal Relations Committee.
Danielsen said New Jersey's dealing a convoluted, antiquated set of rules, but already following those rules are thousands of license holders who've made hefty investments in the industry and who could be harmed should the state introduce major shifts in the formula.
"Whatever improvements or corrections we make statutorily need to be sensitive to the success and the vulnerabilities to the people in the business today," he said.
Approximately 9,000 liquor licenses exist in the state — around one for every 1,000 residents. Availability of licenses is based on population of a municipality.
According to Danielsen, New Jersey is dotted with hundreds of inactive "pocket licenses." These can sell from entity to entity for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Danielsen said he's in favor of giving municipalities more freedom to decide how many licenses should be distributed within city limits. Municipalities do currently have the right to be a dry town.
"Some towns have too many licenses, and some towns don't have enough. Some towns need them, and some towns really need them," he said.
Paul Santelle, executive director of the New Jersey Liquor Store Alliance, said it's that "local home rule" from 80-plus years ago that's resulted in New Jersey having "too many licenses" today.
"Whatever we want to do with tweaking the system – what the end result should be is that we don't end up with more licenses than we have now," Santelle told lawmakers. "The licensing system that's tied to population caps is a very good system. It's an exemplary system."
Convenience store owners in New Jersey are among those interested in gaining the ability to sell alcohol. Sal Risalvato, executive director of the New Jersey Gasoline, C-Store, Automotive Association, said 79% of convenience stores elsewhere in the country are permitted to sell beer, but in New Jersey it's illegal.
"Legislators finally recognize that New Jersey's liquor licensing laws are archaic and do not make any sense in this world," Risalvato told New Jersey 101.5. "Convenience stores, with an underline underneath the word convenience, would like to satisfy their customers by being able to sell beer and wine, not all alcoholic beverages ... as a matter of convenience."
Speaking before the Assembly panel, a member of the New Jersey Licensed Beverage Association said permitting convenience stores and supermarkets to sell alcohol will negatively impact family-owned private businesses in this industry. The items that convenience stores would be selling — single beers and six-packs — are the same items that turn the most profit for liquor stores, the member said.
Contact reporter Dino Flammia at email@example.com.