Saturday, July 29, 2006
Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel
Friday, July 28, 2006
Irving Mainway eyes hard liquor market
By DOUG HARLOW
Copyright © 2006 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.
By DOUG HARLOW
Irving Mainway stores in Fairfield, Farmington and Madison are hoping to get into the business of selling booze.
Irving Oil Corp. has applied to the state for licenses to sell hard liquor at all three locations as off-premises agency liquor stores, according to the licensing bureau, a division of the Maine Department of Public Safety.
The U.S. Route 201 Irving Big Stop in Fairfield, the Irving Mainway store at 309 Main St., Farmington, and the Irving Mainway store at 92 Main St., downtown Madison, are in the current round of licensing that wrapped up with public hearings this week in Augusta.
Considerations to award the licenses are under way, with a decision expected in four to six weeks, according to Jeffrey Austin, supervisor of the state's liquor licensing and inspection division.
Austin said there are several applicants for a limited number of licenses in each town.
License applications in other central Maine communities, including China, Kingfield and Wilton, are not in towns where Irving is trying to establish a foothold in the liquor market, he said.
"Advertisements were put out in May," he said. "The state has to advertise that it wants to place an agency store in a community. Anybody that has a retail store in that community may apply for a license."
In Fairfield, three state liquor licenses are allowed. As of this month, there are two stores actually selling liquor -- Damon's Quick Stop in Fairfield Center and the Rite Aid store on Main Street, downtown.
Austin said there are three applicants for licenses in Fairfield, but none is guaranteed and the state does not have to fill all three open licenses. The applicants are Irving, Damon's and Barry McCormick's Village Market on Main Street.
He said because Damon's, which previously operated with a liquor license as Jock's Variety, has changed hands, a new license now is necessary, but again, not guaranteed.
In Farmington, three agency liquor licenses are allowed and all three are in operation: Ron's Market at 144 Franklin Ave., Hannaford's on Shop n' Save Drive and Rite Aid on the Wilton Road.
There is an opening for one new license in Farmington due to another change of ownership.
Ron's Market, which was sold within the last licensing cycle, needs a new license to continue selling liquor, but again, Austin said, there is no guarantee that Ron's new owner, John Bubier, or Irving Mainway will get the license.
In Madison, three licenses are allowed and currently only the Hannaford's store on Main Street sells hard liquor.
Austin said the Mad Town Beverage store withdrew its application for a liquor license, leaving the Irving Mainway store the sole applicant for two possible new licenses.
He said the selection process is based on population, location, proximity to other liquor stores and on whether a community had a state agency store in the past. He said there are field inspections, interviews and public hearings to assist in the process.
Questions that are asked include whether the applicant is on a well-traveled road, if there is enough storage for back stock in a secure place and how the business is doing in general. Other considerations include how the store has done in beer and wine sales and what other items are sold at the location, such as groceries.
"We're not looking to open a liquor store," Austin said. "This is supposed to be a convenience for the consumers."
John Bubier at Ron's Market in Farmington said Irving Oil Corp.'s advance into the liquor market is one more example of a chain store trying to supplant small business for greater profit.
"There are three liquor licenses in Farmington: Hannaford's -- big box; Rite Aid -- big box; and myself," he said. "Do we want big box stores to carry all the liquor? Irving is a large corporation; we're a small proprietor. I don't think the license should be granted to big box stores.
"Basically, I have to compete for a license. I think it's only fair to give a fair proportion of these licenses to small businesses."
Russell "Rusty" Damon at Damon's Quick Stop in Fairfield Center said he concurs.
"I wouldn't disagree with that," he said. "There are no Irvings that sell liquor around here, but I certainly want to keep (the license); it's part of our business. We bought that store when it had a liquor license, that's the problem with the state's licensing.
"You buy a store on what it's doing in gross sales. If the state comes in and takes your license, you just overpaid for the store. It's a crap shoot, you really don't know."
Jay Leduc, a spokesman at Irving's Portsmouth, N.H., offices, said there currently are two Irving stores that sell liquor, one in Ellsworth, which opened in August 2001, and another in Bucksport, which opened a year or so later.
He said there are no plans to open liquor stores anywhere else in Maine and there is no trend to read into the new applications in Fairfield, Farmington and Madison.
"We found that our customers would probably appreciate the service of having the ability to purchase alcoholic beverages at a convenience store," Leduc said. "We're trying to provide a service to our customers.
"It's not geared at taking away services that mom and pop stores would offer."
Staff photo by Jeff Pouland
Staff photo by Jeff Pouland
Irving Mainway stores in Fairfield, Farmington and Madison have applied to the state for licenses to sell hard liquor as off-premises agency stores. The Irving Mainway store is located on U.S. Route 201 in Fairfield.
Doug Harlow -- 861-9244