The proposed 10,000-square-foot liquor store that would be located on the second floor of the new Columbia Wegmans has drawn the ire of local retail liquor businesses that say the store may violate Maryland law.
The proposal for a Class A license for the store goes before the Howard County Liquor Board at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Steve Wise, an attorney for the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association, said it is the association's position that locating the new liquor store inside a grocery chain is against Maryland state law. He said he is unaware of any liquor store located inside a grocery chain in Maryland.
Eric Stein, owner of Decanter Fine Wines in Hickory Ridge Village Center, said the issue with the new store’s application is knowing for sure Wegmans is not financing the store.
The store is reportedly being opened by Ellicott City lawyer Mike Smith, who previously advised Wegmans on employment and labor issues in the Mid-Atlantic region. He said it would be called "Upstairs Wine, Liquor and Beer." If licensed, the store would occupy a 10,000-square-foot space on the second floor of the new Columbia Wegmans.
“We want to make sure this is a totally independent license application from Wegmans,” said Stein. “This is not about competition; there’s a world of competition in the alcohol business.”
Stein said the liquor board must also consider if there’s a need for the new liquor store. He said local businesses like his store and others located even closer to the new Wegmans, such as Snowden River Liquors, already satisfy the market and would lose a significant amount of business if the proposed store opened.
Stein said smaller stores would be at a significant disadvantage against a 10,000-square-foot store. Howard County law states that liquor store owners are not allowed to store large amounts of alcohol offsite from their store, according to Stein.
“Maryland has a quantity discount structure,” said Stein, “the more you buy, the more you save.”
He worries the new liquor store and Wegmans itself bucks the village center model that Columbia was developed on, which will lead many small businesses to suffer.
“What will happen to independent licensees who have invested life savings in this particular model?” asked Stein.
Chris Alleva, a Columbia resident and member of the Howard County Independent Business Association, also worried about the local small businesses being hurt by Wegmans and the liquor store proposal.
“Wegmans doesn’t get a license to eat the entire county,” said Alleva. “It is the antithesis of environmentally conscious development.”
He said rather than local residents walking or biking to village centers, residents from all over Maryland would be driving to Wegmans.
He said retailers are already less than enthusiastic about going to the back of village centers and he wondered how small retailers are going to compete against this mammoth business.
“They’re concerned their businesses will be irreparably harmed,” said Alleva.