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Bill would allow hard liquor sales in retail stores

Liquor store owners, employees sign petition opposing change

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – One of the most controversial bills of the legislative session would allow retail stores like Walmart to sell hard liquor on their shelves. Lawmakers spent hours talking about it Tuesday, but owners of traditional liquor stores fear they will be put out of business.

About 1,700 liquor store owners and employees have signed an online petition opposing the change.

A hundred liquor store owners greeted House members as they entered the Chamber Tuesday. The message on their shirts is clear: Vote against a bill that would allow big retailers like Walmart to sell liquor on their shelves instead of in a separate adjoined store. 

“That will severely impact my business," Elizabeth Durling said. "I employ six other people, so we have a total of six families that are dependent upon my business staying open.”

Opponents said they can't compete with the convenience big retailers would be able to offer.

“I can't suddenly start selling diapers and candy overnight,“ James Simms said.
 
Nor can they compete with the prices. Purav Shah owns multiple liquor stores. He estimates if the bill passes he'll have to make major cuts to keep his doors open.

“I'm pretty sure 20 percent of my staff would have to be relocated or reassigned,” he said.

The liquor store owners said it's not all business -- they also don't want their kids exposed to alcohol on the shelves at grocery stores.
 
The store owners filled many of the seats in the House gallery, then waited.
Rep. Bryan Avila said the the change won't make Florida more deadly. 

“The states that do not have a separation, those states have less incidents of alcohol-related incidents,” Avila said.
 
But opponents said the statistics are confusing.

“Seven of the 10 states that have the highest hard alcohol consumed per capita are states that have allowed hard liquor to be sold in big box retailers,” Rep. Randy Fine said.
 
A final vote is set for Wednesday. If approved by the House, the measure will go to the governor.