Tear down the wall and let the free market in

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ABC Fine Wine & Liquors, Florida’s largest alcohol retail chain, struck a deal last year with a mobile app service to start offering one-hour alcohol delivery with the click of a smartphone.

Announcing the new partnership, ABC CEO Charles Bailes III declared: “Convenience is everything … we are providing our guests multiple options for delivery. Everyone has different needs and preferences, and we want to ensure our guests will have an option that is compatible with their lifestyle.”

I agree with him wholeheartedly. So long as this innovative method to sell alcohol to willing consumers is done legally, responsibly and includes safeguards against sales to minors, then I say “cheers!”

Ironically, however, ABC is among the loudest voices opposing a sensible, bipartisan bill in Tallahassee that would allow grocers and other big-box retailers to sell liquor in the same store as food, beer, wine and other goods.

Currently, if a grocery-store chain or other retailer wants to expand their alcohol selection from beer and wine to other kinds of liquor, Florida law requires it be sold in an entirely separate retail location. This Prohibition Era red tape foists needless expense on businesses, as well as inconveniences shoppers.

I salute ABC for its innovation. They understand their customers are growing more accustomed to the benefits of online shopping, and want to maximize their convenience. ABC and other retailers need to adapt to market realities in new ways and I would be the first to defend them should any nanny-state, big government politicians attempt to undermine their efforts to do so.

Unfortunately, in the current debate before the Legislature, ABC and a few others are the ones fighting giving other retailers the flexibility to sell other kinds of alcohol. This practice is legal in 29 other states, making Florida the outlier.

I’ve always believed in a free market approach, and this issue is no different. HB 81 and SB 106 are not mandates. Retailers who prefer to stick with their current business models — whether that’s a separate store for liquor or one-hour mobile delivery — can do so. But the time has come to replace outdated, expensive regulations and give consumers more options.

ABC has been able to innovate without government interference, and other companies should be able to do the same.


Image by Felix Mizioznikov

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