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Beer, Here!

On Nov. 8, Wilton voters will decide whether buying beer will be easier—for all residents.

Losing power last week presented a wonderful opportunity—we were able to clean and refill our refrigerator, thanks to Irene. So off to market, to market I went, carrying my extra-long shopping list:  eggs, milk, bread, deli, laundry detergent, chicken, frozen waffles, beer…

Whoa, hold on a sec! Remember, this is Wilton, they don’t allow beer sales at the supermarket.

But come November 8, Wilton voters .

What’s at stake? On the surface, shoppers could soon conveniently pick up their beer and groceries all in one place. But it’s more complicated than that.

In order for the question of allowing beer sales in supermarkets and groceries to be placed on the November ballot, signatures from 10 percent of Wilton’s registered electorate needed to be collected by petition as of August 1. Of the many signatures collected and submitted to Wilton’s registrars of voters, there were 1,185 names officially verified and approved (not including Mr. Bud Weiser, which didn’t count).  It hit just above 10 percent.

Wilton’s Board of Selectmen were presented with the signatures and voted Tuesday evening at their meeting to allow the question to appear on the upcoming November ballot.

Democracy in action, just like it happened two years ago, when the issue of retail liquor sales and package stores was voted on by Wilton voters in 2009.

But back then, there seemed to be more buzz and chatter about the issue. People seemed more opinionated on both sides of the alcohol sale issue, it made more waves in local media, and a , as did I.

This time, the only instance I ever heard anyone mention the supermarket beer sales issue was when I walked into , and I was asked to sign the petition by a Stop & Shop employee.

Hmmm…

(If an online opinion column had sound effects, this is where you’d hear the crickets chirp.)

Speaking of crickets, they might have been the only ones making any noise about supermarket beer sales on soccer sidelines, because no human mentioned it to me there. No one talked about it at any recent school events, or any time we were invited to swim with friends over the summer, or any place I’ve been in Wilton at all this year.

In fact, the original inquiry months ago at Wilton’s Town Hall about getting the beer sale question on the ballot came from an attorney, according to Carole Young-Kleinfeld, one of Wilton’s registrars of voters. It was the attorney for Stop & Shop.

Cue the crickets.

While the effort might have been more corporate-organized push than a wellspring of true democratic, grass-roots desire, I can still tip my hat to fair market economic drivers. I can certainly understand why Stop & Shop is interested in adding a money-maker like beer to its merchandise for sale, and why reportedly joined in the effort.

But delving deeper, it’s curious to see how “grocery” is defined by Connecticut. According to Title 30, “Intoxicating Liquors” of the state’s Liquor Control Act, “’Grocery Store’ means any store commonly known as a supermarket, food store, grocery store or delicatessen, primarily engaged in the retail sale of all sorts of canned goods and dry goods such as tea, coffee, spices, sugar and flour, either packaged or in bulk, with or without fresh fruits and vegetables, and with or without fresh, smoked and prepared meats, fish and poultry, except that no store primarily engaged in the retail sale of seafood, fruits and vegetables, candy, nuts and confectioneries, dairy products, bakery products or eggs and poultry shall be included in the definition of ‘grocery store’.”

So, wouldn’t count as a grocery store? What about the convenience store of the Citgo gas station on Danbury Road? Both of these are located a stone’s throw from Wilton High School.

With all of Wilton’s supermarkets, groceries, delis and convenience stores extremely accessible to minors—either as shoppers or as employees—what’s crucial is how well the stores can really manage whether those underage can access the beer.

“The issue is whether the stores are vigilant about controlling the access minors have to the alcohol,” said Colleen Fawcett, coordinator of Wilton’s Youth Services. She added that while Wilton teens have previously reported that the primary way they get access to alcohol is through their own homes, increasing alcohol presence in stores like I’ve listed will likely up their ability to access alcohol elsewhere.

To me, this is a different issue than allowing package stores to sell alcohol. Wine stores like Ancona’s or Vintage Wines are in the business of selling alcohol and only alcohol. They are likely more attuned to when minors are even in their stores, let alone trying to purchase alcoholic beverages. It behooves them to remain vigilant about preventing sales to minors.

I don’t know that I feel as confident saying that about other kinds of businesses—like a deli or a supermarket—that might now earn the right to sell beer.

I never signed the petition Stop & Shop asked me to sign. We’re not big beer drinkers anyway, but regardless, the convenience factor of being able to pick up a six pack with my sugar, spaghetti and soup didn't seem all that critical to me.

Now, looking into it a little more carefully, I think what’s critical is taking a closer look at the issue, and considering voting ‘No’ on November 8.

In late September, Wilton Youth Services will be convening its first meeting of the Task Force to Reduce Substance Abuse Among Youth. At press time the date wasn’t yet set, but anyone interested in getting involved or learning more can contact Colleen Fawcett at (203) 834-6241.

Joe Burke September 08, 2011 at 01:45 PM
Well said Heather. I do not think I could support beer sales in supermarkets. I agree that the employees of the licquor stores are more attuned to the presence of minors and they recognize the importance of enforcing the law. I have little confidence that Stop and Shop would operate with the same vigilance when it comes to preventing minors from purchasing alcohol.
wilton42 September 08, 2011 at 10:44 PM
Ah the parents of Wilton youth are so naive. No matter where it is sold or what the restrictions are, the vast majority of your children are obtaining alcohol and drinking it.

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