Liquor Store Owners Uncorked by Wegmans

Hearing to obtain license for liquor store above Wegmans brought out business owners.

A liquor license hearing Tuesday in Ellicott City drew 100 liquor store owners and managers from Howard, Prince George’s and Balitmore counties.

One after another, they came forward to offer emotional testimony as to why a liquor store on the second floor of the Wegmans opening next month in Columbia would hurt their businesses.

Even before the meeting, the proposal 

There were so many small business owners prepared to testify that the meeting ran four and a half hours. of Elkridge hired a lawyer on its behalf, as did others. With 20 people left to talk, the meeting was adjourned because the building had to be closed at 11 p.m. The meeting will resume on June 14.

The liquor store proposed for the second floor of the Columbia Wegmans would be 90 percent owned by the husband of Colleen Wegman, the president of Wegmans, according to testimony by Ralph Michael Smith at Tuesday’s hearing.

Smith, who has been the of the proposal, revealed at a packed hearing before the Howard County Liquor Board that he has a 10 percent stake in the business.

IAD LLC, a Delaware company owned by Christopher O’Donnell, would own the other 90 percent. Smith testified a member of Wegman’s legal department steered him toward O’Donnell to provide capital to start the 10,000-foot store.

Smith denied knowing who O’Donnell’s wife was.

“I don’t even know what her job title is,” said Smith of Colleen Wegman, who is the president of the company.

Two lawyers who represented local businesses also quizzed Smith about his plans.

Maryland law prohibits liquor licenses being used in conjunction with a chain grocery store. Smith denied any involvement with Wegmans. He said the store would not participate in setting prices, picking inventory, transporting his products or storing liquor. He said he would not carry or sell any Wegmans inventory.

Smith’s testimony did little to convince the small liquor store owners in the room.

Amran Pasha of Columbia said Smith is “a front for Wegmans.”

Parth Dave, of Pikesville, said, “This is a big chain, it’s going to the money and take it out of the state.” And Sandeep Patel of Laurel said the proposal “looks like a Wegmans operation from the bottom up.”

For the June 14 meeting, liquor board member Anne Santos asked Smith to be prepared to provide more information on the entrance to the store and how he plans to transport liquor into the store; she also requested the landlord's presence.

After the meeting, Smith said the backlash was expected.

“I think the existing businesses don’t want additional competition,” said Smith. “I don’t think it would have made a difference if I was providing 90 percent of the financing and someone else was providing 10.”

He said he plans on continuing to fight for the store.

“Frankly, I’m more interested in pursuing the store,” said Smith. “I want consumers to have a lot of choices.”

This article was corrected on May 3 to reflect that The Perfect Pour had its own lawyer and the next hearing will be June 14.

Lisa Madera May 03, 2012 at 12:22 PM
Call me crazy, but it seems that a liquor store inside of a grocery store constitutes "in conjunction," if for no other reason than the liquor is, at the VERY least, leasing space from the grocery store owner(s). And that's whether you know the owner's job title or not!! Seriously?? Just another way big business beats up the working folks... If Mr. Smith REALLY wants consumers to have a lot of choices, could one of those choices be support small, local business? The local liquor store owners and employees could shop at Wegmans if they so choose; Wegmans' employees could support local liquor stores. WOW! Talk about choices!
Frank in Elkridge May 03, 2012 at 01:37 PM
Maryland blues laws are dumb. There should be no restriction on selling liquor, beer, and wine in grocery stores. Whenever I am at a supermarket in Virginia or California, and most other states and see the aisles of fine wine, beer, and liquor there I feel angry about Maryland's ridiculous restrictions. Liquor sales licensing is not about saving existing stores from competition. Whatever is better for the consumer - lower prices and more convenience should be welcomed.


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