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Quicker liquor at grocery stores?

CONCORD — A bill that would allow grocery and convenience stores to sell hard liquor would water down the state's reputation for selling cheap alcohol, one lawmaker says.

&#';Do we really want to muck around with this?&#'; Rep. Donna Schlachman, D-Exeter, said, during a House Commerce and Consumer Affairs Committee session on House Bill 1251 Tuesday. &#';I would argue it is not in the best interest of the state to do anything other than what we do, because it is really profitable.&#';

But Chairman John Hunt, R-Rindge, said the ability to buy liquor in a supermarket &#';is a service those of us who live in the hinterlands would appreciate when the liquor store closes at 6.&#';

The Commerce and Consumer Affairs Committee toyed with several amendments to the bill Tuesday. Hunt said work would continue on the bill after a 9:30 a.m. Thursday public hearing, with a vote planned for that afternoon.

The bill is opposed by the State Liquor Commission as well as police organizations, the hospitality association, beer and wine brokers, beer manufacturers and distributors and anti-drunk driving groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

The New Hampshire Grocers Association is backing House Bill 1251.

According to the Liquor Commission, the bill would require additional enforcement and licensing officers to the tune of about $1 million a year.

One version of the bill distributed Tuesday would have required the grocery or convenience stores to purchase the hard liquor from the state Liquor Commission at retail price.

The original bill would have provided a 10 to 20 percent discount to the grocers and convenience stores.

Committee Vice Chair Jennifer Coffey, R-Andover, said the current version removes any discount for the stores and they would be required to purchase the product directly from the Liquor Commission's warehouse.

Schlachman said the price in the grocery stores would have to be higher if the merchants are buying the liquor at retail price.

That would harm the state's image as a low-cost, no-tax liquor seller, she said.

&#';This will water down our branding of selling cheap alcohol,&#'; Schlachman said. &#';This is not a necessity you have to have in the middle of the night.&#';

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