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Mass. Food Retailers Petition for Right to Sell Wine

BOSTON -- Food retailers here are pressing the state government to allow more of them to sell wine in their stores.

The Massachusetts Food Association (MFA) here said last week it had submitted more than 85,000 signatures to the Massachusetts secretary of state's office, well above the required 65,825 signatures, in favor of a proposed ballot initiative that would permit food stores in the state to sell wine, according to a published report.

The proposed initiative would create a new type of license called "wine at food store licenses," which would be subject to approval by local officials, as current liquor licenses are, and store owners would pay a license fee set by local officials, the same way they set liquor license fees. Food stores receiving such a license would be subject to all of the same local and state regulations that apply to sales of other alcoholic beverages.

As is the case with existing liquor licenses in Massachusetts, the number of licenses to sell wine at food stores would be set according to local population figures. Towns with fewer than 5,000 residents would be able to issue as many as five licenses, while larger cities and towns could issue one additional license for every 5,000 people.

In accordance with a state law passed in 1934, Massachusetts food stores can sell wine only if they're able to obtain a retail liquor license to sell alcohol for off-premises consumption. A license is usually available only when an existing owner wishes to sell one.

"About 12,000 package stores, bars and, other retail outlets in Massachusetts already have licenses to sell wine and other alcohol beverages," noted MFA president Chris Flynn in a statement. "Our initiative simply allows food stores that get local approval to sell wine."

Last August, when the petition for the ballot initiative was launched, Flynn said, "It just makes common sense to update our state's laws so that Massachusetts food stores can sell wine and operate on a level playing field. It's the fair thing to do, and it will benefit consumers and our state's economy. People generally drink wine along with meals, so allowing consumers to buy wine at the same grocery store where they buy food will be more convenient for them. In addition, allowing Massachusetts food stores to sell wine and compete with out-of-state Internet wine sales will keep millions of dollars of revenue in our state to benefit our economy."

The trade group formed the Massachusetts Food Association for Consumer Convenience in Wine Sales to back the initiative.

If Massachusetts Secretary of State William F. Galvin certifies the signatures, the initiative could be a ballot question on the November 2006 statewide ballot.

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