Florida Bill Seeks to Tear Down 'Liquor Wall' in Supermarkets, Retail Stores

By Britni de la Cretaz 02/09/17

Florida is one of 21 states that require a wall between liquor and any other items sold in supermarkets and other retail stores.

Man selecting wine.

In Florida, some lawmakers want to make it easier to buy liquor. The state has a law on the books that dates back to Prohibition, saying there must be a wall separating hard liquor from beer and wine in stores. Now, some retailers are saying the law is outdated and an inconvenience to customers.

According to NBC2, big companies like Walmart, Target, and Walgreens are advocating for the wall to come down. But some locals think these companies' opinion shouldn’t matter because they are not based in Florida—instead, they say the call should be made by Florida businesses.

Florida Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen of District 78 told NBC2 that she doesn’t know of any constituents who are having difficulty buying alcohol as a result of the wall. “I believe taking down the wall to enhance sales at Walmart, which is not a Florida company, would hurt Florida small businesses,” said Fitzenhagen.

Fitzenhagen cited Publix, a local supermarket chain that is opposed to removing the liquor wall in their stores. "Current law provides a level playing field for all businesses, large and small," a Publix rep told NBC2. “We currently all play by the same rules and sell liquor in a location with a separate entrance. This bill seeks to change that level playing field into a system that suits the business models of large big box stores, and gives them an advantage over other businesses."

Florida is one of 21 states that require stores to sell liquor separately from other items, including beer and wine. The liquor store has its own entrance that is typically next door or nearby. Some people, like Bob Gibson, chief marketing officer for ABC Fine Wine & Spirits, claim it cuts down on underage folks’ ability to buy alcohol.

At ABC Fine Wine & Spirits, which is based in Orlando, cashiers must be over 21, which supposedly cuts down on the likelihood that they will sell alcohol to underage peers. In grocery or big box stores like Walmart, the concern is that underage cashiers could illegally sell alcohol to their friends. 

However, advocates for removing wall, like Larry Redding, asset protection manager for Walmart, bring up the fact that beer is the most stolen alcoholic beverage, even in states where liquor can be sold inside the main grocery store.

Evidence shows that between 2005 to 2013, "liquor stores had 56% of violations when it comes to selling alcohol to minors, compared to 44% committed by retail stores," according to NBC2.

For four years in a row, bills to remove the wall have been proposed, but have not made much progress in the Florida legislature. Both sides of the issue have formed groups to lobby for their desired outcome: Floridians for Fair Business Practices (which includes Target, Walmart and Whole Foods Market) is against the wall, while Florida Businesses Unite (Publix and ABC Fine Wines & Liquor) support keeping it.

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Britni de la Cretaz is a freelance writer, baseball enthusiast, and recovered alcoholic living in Boston. Follow her on Twitter at @britnidlc.