New Haven Register (New Haven, CT)

More opportunit­ies for wine and whine

- Jonathan L. Wharton Jonathan L. Wharton is associate professor of political science and urban affairs at Southern Connecticu­t State University in New Haven.

Our Connecticu­t General Assembly’s legislativ­e session has been intriguing so far, with proposals for keeping establishm­ents open until 4 a.m. and considerin­g grocery stores to sell wine. I’ve jokingly said to tristate-area friends that it’s slowly becoming the Jerseyfica­ton of Connecticu­t. But these and additional proposals allow for Connecticu­t to get beyond our hardened steady habit syndrome, if lawmakers allow for it.

More than 10 years ago, our state government allowed for alcohol purchases on Sundays. Support was so strong for Sunday sales because the infamous and well-organized Connecticu­t Package Stores Associatio­n carried out an effective lobbying and public campaign. Most importantl­y the governor at the time, Dannel Malloy, supported the measure. Besides, Sunday sales brought more money into the state’s coffers and various elected officials were on board. Similarly, extending sales until 10 p.m. on weekdays and 6 p.m. became law in 2015.

This year’s proposals consider allowing establishm­ents to have last calls beyond 1 a.m. with a pilot program in specific municipali­ties. It’s an interestin­g measure, especially in shoreline areas with late-night spots. It could bring additional money for businesses, state and local government­s. But the proposal could also draw concerns about late-night partying and noise complaints.

Could “eds and meds” New Haven enjoy a longer nightlife? Would Stamford have extended partying hours? Could downtown Hartford and Bridgeport not shut down before 10 p.m.? Let’s face it, few Nutmeggers are night owls, even though I’ll confess that I am, especially during summer months, and

I’ll blame attending graduate school in New Jersey for such a habit.

But what seems to have received the most attention in our state Capitol last week was House Bill 5918 to allow grocery stores to sell wine. So many people showed up to the hearing and testified before the general law committee that the Legislativ­e Office Building’s massive lobby was unusually packed. As expected, the small liquor store owners and their statewide organizati­on rallied members and supporters against the proposal. They argue that big-chain supermarke­ts could put a number of small package stores out of business.

Supermarke­ts already sell beer and even big box store Total Wine has made a sizable imprint in local areas around Connecticu­t. More competitio­n could allow for more availabili­ty of wines while shopping for food items, if the Connecticu­t Food Associatio­n has it their way. Capitalism and competitio­n can be transforma­tive forces for consumers and the economy.

I’ll admit that I regularly shop at my neighborho­od package store because the owners are neighbors. I rarely purchase beer at the grocery store near their store, but I will make a monthly trek to Total Wine a few towns away because of their selection.

But what I often remind students, especially in legislativ­e processes courses, is that organized and effective lobbying strategies make the biggest difference in political arenas. The Connecticu­t Package Stores Associatio­n is a significan­t entity. They already have a number of lawmakers’ support and their members galvanize for proposals that challenge or help their businesses. In other words, lobbying and showing up matters, and their members have done so for years.

Whether their lobbying and rallying cries are helpful towards capitalism is another story. But their efforts should remind big retailers that organizing and lobbying impacts politics in a small state like Connecticu­t. Many Nutmeggers are also dutiful about protecting small businesses and adhering to the status quo.

Wine aficionado and consumer me appreciate­s more availabili­ty and competitio­n in the marketplac­e. But political scientist me knows that connected and strategize­d entities regularly win legislativ­e battles. Ultimately, organized whining can be more potent than allowing more stores to sell wine.

 ?? Getty Images ?? French wines are displayed for sale at a supermarke­t in Los Angeles.
Getty Images French wines are displayed for sale at a supermarke­t in Los Angeles.
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