The Codcast: Buying booze the modern way

Since the end of Prohibition in 1933, the alcohol industry has been regulated by states, some with a heavy hand, others with a light touch. Over the years, as social mores and consumer demands changed, so have some of the laws.

Massachusetts, where Blue Laws ruled and buying booze on a Sunday is a 21st century idea, has been slow to uncork some of the stringent regulations that were designed to limit consumption and, in the process, limit competition.

Those rules, though, are being challenged by national chain Total Wine & Spirit, a newcomer to the state’s retail liquor industry with four stores open already and plans to open more. The big booze box store is looking to upend the state’s way of doing business in buying and selling alcohol much the same way Uber disrupted the taxi industry and Amazon is changing the way people shop.

“We’re advocates for the customer,” said Ed Cooper, vice president of public affairs for Total Wine, who joined The Codcast to talk about the company’s intent to overturn the state’s “arcane and archaic” liquor laws. “When retailers compete, the customers win… We’d like to make it more convenient for customers to benefit from price competition.”

Total Wine ran afoul of the state’s regulation barring retail sale of alcohol below the invoice cost from the wholesaler. The chain argued its true invoice cost should reflect volume discounts, but regulators disagreed, suspending the licenses of two of the company’s stores. Total Wine challenged the suspensions in court and won a ruling this summer that the price control regulations of the state Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission were “arbitrary and capricious.”

Cooper said the minimum pricing regulation is just one of several rules that hinder competition and leave consumers holding the bag. The company is also looking to expand Sunday hours, favors lifting the limit on store licenses, and wants to repeal the state ban on the use of coupons to buy liquor, saying that ban hurts retailers trying to foster customer loyalty.

Cooper insists the court system is not Total Wine’s first recourse when trying to alter regulations, though the company also sued unsuccessfully in Connecticut to gut that state’s pricing regulations. He says the company has hired lobbyists to work the halls at the State House and has joined a task force created by Treasurer Deborah Goldberg that is looking at updating the liquor laws.

One area on the horizon for the retail liquor industry is online sales for home delivery or in-store pickup. Cooper said digital is the trend in the business and his company is already ramping up to meet the new demands.

“That’s really where the industry is going,” he said. “Not everybody wants to shop between 10 and 6. You can already have delivery of groceries and toothpaste and long underwear.”

Cooper said his company has no interest in selling marijuana, even though lawmakers used alcohol regulations as a guide in setting up oversight for pot. “We like to think we’re good retailers of beverage alcohol and that’s where our focus is,” Cooper said. “But when I go to industry meetings, the opportunity to be able to sell marijuana has been front and center for many years. We’ve heard some anecdotal conversation from other retailers that some of their beer sales have been hurt by marijuana.”

JACK SULLIVAN


BEACON HILL

Activists packed a hearing of the Elections Laws Committee to show support for legislation instituting ranked-choice voting. (Lowell Sun) For more on the problem the bill seeks to address, read how democracy isn’t working and how activists are using beer and pie to try to change that in the new fall issue of CommonWealth.

State Education Secretary James Peyser said Massachusetts has become complacent about its educational system and needs to regain the sense of urgency it had during the last major reform effort in 1993. (Telegram & Gazette)

Sen. Will Brownsberger of Belmont convened a marathon rally at the State House to show support for criminal justice reform legislation. (CommonWealth) MassINC President Greg Torres says income inequality and criminal justice reform are linked. (CommonWealth) The Senate reform bill would, among other things, bar parents from testifying against their minor children in almost all court cases. (Boston Globe)

The Senate approved a ban on bump stocks one day after the measure won approval in the House. (Eagle-Tribune)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Paul Vidich, who describes himself as “ridiculously frugal,” cashed his $389 paycheck and threw all of the money (all $1 bills) into the air at a busy intersection in Northampton. (MassLive)

An advocate group trying to release a pair of aging elephants from Buttonwood Zoo in New Bedford has filed a federal suit under the Endangered Species Act to relocate the animals to a sanctuary in Tennessee, claiming the elephants are “forced to reside at the zoo against their will.” (Standard-Times)

Opponents of the Berkshire Museum’s plan to sell off artworks have donated $6,000 to a legal fund to fight the sales in court. (Berkshire Eagle)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

Unable to get his repeal of Obamacare through Congress, President Trump announced he would unilaterally end health care subsidies to insurance companies that help keep premiums and copays down for low-income people. (New York Times)

Some say Trump has seemed particularly unstable, even for Trump, in recent days. (Boston Globe) A Herald editorial expresses exasperation at Trump’s latest attack on the First Amendment, saying his oath doesn’t really allow him to pick and choose which parts of the Constitution to defend. Katherine Timpf, a columnist for the right-of-center National Review, said it’s “disgusting” that conservatives don’t denounce Trump’s attacks on the press given their longtime defense of the First Amendment.

Lawyers for Trump may be willing to let the president be interviewed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller as a way to speed up the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. (Politico)

ELECTIONS

Businessman John Kingston evidently told a small gathering of Republicans that Gov. Charlie Baker will give behind-the-scenes support to his effort to be the GOP nominee for US Senate next year — but now Kingston and Baker are both saying it’s not true. (Boston Globe)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Roy Price, the head of Amazon Studios, was placed on leave after a producer alleged he had sexually harassed her. (Associated Press) Boston-based Fidelity Investments has reportedly fired star fund manager Gavin Baker in the wake of a sexual harassment charge against him. (Boston Globe) Scot Lehigh imagines Harvey Weinstein’s acceptance speech at Oscar-type awards for best sexual predator performance. (Boston Globe)

A review of contributions of $1 million or more finds big donors favor hurricane relief efforts for Texas over Puerto Rico. (Chronicle of Philanthropy)

EDUCATION

Interim University of Massachusetts Boston chancellor Barry Mills announced he will step down next June as the campus continues to wrestle with a big budget problem. (Boston Globe)

A Framingham State University disabled student who has to use a scooter because of a spinal cord injury as a child said she is “humiliated” by the lack of automatic doors on the aging campus, especially in the building that houses resources for the disabled. The school says it is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, which doesn’t require automatic doors. (MetroWest Daily News)

Rockland police were called in to investigate separate incidents of a swastika carved into a desk and racial slurs directed at blacks at the high school. (Patriot Ledger)

TRANSPORTATION

Joe Battenfeld says the MBTA commuter rail’s record of leading the nation in the number of breakdowns last year is an embarrassment that Gov. Charlie Baker now owns. (Boston Herald) Baker’s Democratic challengers agree. (Boston Herald)

The state will form a task force after a big increase in the number of people killed while on the tracks of commuter rail trains. (Boston Globe)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

National Grid cries foul on Hydro-Quebec’s clean energy proposal, saying the hydroelectricity it would deliver is already being produced so the project won’t result in any reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. (CommonWealth)

Thomas Kiley of the Northeast Gas Association says the claim that Eversource Energy and Avangrid artificially restrained gas pipeline capacity and cost ratepayers $3.6 billion is misleading and inaccurate. (CommonWealth) Attorney General Maura Healey says she’s looking into the claim. (Boston Herald)

Volunteers in Quincy planted 100,000 tiny clams donated by Salem State University to try to restore the once-thriving clamming fields that have been decimated by a cancer in the waters of the South Shore city. (Patriot Ledger)

CASINOS

Plainridge Park Casino is pulling in gambling money that had previously been going out of state and attracting new out-of-state money as well. (CommonWealth)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

A 34-year-old Brockton man was not pleased when he failed his driver’s test; he was charged with threatening to kill the instructor who told him he didn’t pass. (The Enterprise)

A veteran Boston police officer was indicted on charges that he stole $2,000 from a department evidence room and tried to launder the cash through the Plainridge Park Casino. (Boston Globe)

MEDIA

A woman says she turned down a job at the raunchy sports website Barstool Sports after being asked to sign a contract saying she wouldn’t be offended at material that includes racial epithets and stereotypes. (Boston Globe)  

Trying to figure out what constitutes hate speech on Facebook? Take this quiz. (New York Times)