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New group enters ‘whiskey and Wheaties’ fray

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Groups opposed to an effort to do away with retailers having separate stores to sell liquor have banded together as Florida Businesses Unite.

The new alliance includes ABC Fine Wine & Spirits, the Florida Independent Spirits Association and Publix, according to a Wednesday news release.

For three years now, various lawmakers have carried legislation – or “whiskey and Wheaties” bills – pushed by Wal-Mart, Target and other big-box retailers that would ease regulations on the sale of alcohol.

State Rep. Carlos Trujillo, a Miami Republican, filed this year’s bill (HB 245) on Friday.

The group pushing the change, known as Floridians for Fair Business Practices, wants to repeal the Prohibition-era law that requires retailers to sell hard liquor in a store that is separate from groceries and other goods.

Other companies, though, including many locally owned liquor stores, argue to keep the status quo.

“As a small standalone store here in Florida, we have been operating the same as grocery stores and liquor stores, as well as independents and established chains, for the last 80 years,” said Pete Izaguirre, owner of Pantry Liquors in Miami. He’s on the board of the Florida Independent Spirits Association.

“We have all based our business models and stores on this long-standing law, and this attempt for change by these out-of-state retailers looking out for only their self interests would severely hurt our small Florida-centered business,” Izaguirre said in a statement, echoing an argument made last session by Publix’s lobbyist.

Even a watered-down proposal that would have just allowed a door in the wall between a main store and an attached liquor store failed last session.

Proponents for removing the wall of separation say it’s about customer convenience.

Opponents have countered that it’s a grab for market share that will hurt traditional pure-play liquor stores, especially ‘mom ‘n’ pop’ shops. Florida’s alcohol and drug-abuse prevention community also has said it could increase teens’ access to alcohol.

Florida Businesses Unite is now on Twitter at @FLBizUnite and on Facebook at FB.com/FloridaBusinessesUnite.

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Before joining Florida Politics, journalist and attorney James Rosica was state government reporter for The Tampa Tribune. He attended journalism school in Washington, D.C., working at dailies and weekly papers in Philadelphia after graduation. Rosica joined the Tallahassee Democrat in 1997, later moving to the courts beat, where he reported on the 2000 presidential recount. In 2005, Rosica left journalism to attend law school in Philadelphia, afterwards working part time for a public-interest law firm. Returning to writing, he covered three legislative sessions in Tallahassee for The Associated Press, before joining the Tribune’s re-opened Tallahassee bureau in 2013. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.

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