Viewpoint: Don’t let big boys trample little guys

Florida has one of the most business-friendly climates in the country, but some businesses will do anything to gain an unfair advantage.

Mega-retailer Wal-Mart is asking the Florida legislature for permission to sell hard liquor on their shelves alongside other goods in their grocery sections. 

Under longstanding current law, if Wal-Mart or any other grocery store chain wants to sell liquor, they are required to set up a separate entrance to a separate store where consumers can go in and purchase that liquor in a controlled setting from a clerk trained to ensure that minors don’t get access to the alcohol.

Independently owned liquor stores have long operated successfully under these laws. Since independent liquor stores sell only alcohol-related items, their focus is consistently on keeping hard liquor out of the hands of children.

Many of the independent stores are family owned, passed down from generation to generation. Upholding the law is a way of life for them, and quite often their livelihood depends on it. They employ thousands of workers in Florida who support their families by working the front counter, stocking shelves, watching the door, and checking IDs so that kids can’t get their hands on their products.

It would appear that Wal-Mart’s goal in repealing the law is to help their business model on two fronts. First, once they are able to sell liquor directly to the customers who are already in their stores, they would effectively push the small liquor stores out of the equation and increase their own market share. Second, it would actually allow Wal-Mart to cut their labor costs by using fewer workers.

Wal-Mart spokesman Bill Wertz complained to the Tampa Tribune in February 2014 that this law is unfair to businesses because it requires them to build, staff, and maintain additional square footage.

It seems Wal-Mart has already made the cold, hard calculation that if they can repeal this law, they can close down their outside liquor stores, move that product into their grocery section, and continue to sell liquor without the burden of having dedicated staff that ensure that kids can’t get access to hard liquor.

Not only does this mean fewer jobs, but it means fewer jobs dedicated to ensuring the lawful sale of alcohol.

This proposal is a classic example of big business trampling on the little guy — small independent liquor stores simply would not survive.

All parties are competing and succeeding under the law as it is written, and no corners are being cut. Giving superstores such a pronounced advantage over small business would spell the demise of these shops on our Main Streets and the demise of the jobs they’ve created. And anything that threatens to force small businesses to lay off workers and close up shop is a giant step backward for the strong, competitive business climate we’ve created in Florida.

Bill Herrle is executive director of the National Federation of Independent Business, Florida’s largest small business advocacy association.