Letter: Removing Liquor Store Limit Isn’t A Free Market Reform

South Carolina’s marketplace is best served by keeping the existing rule in place …

Dear Editor,

I am asking that you please give careful consideration (and hopefully your full support) to H. 4729 and or any other forthcoming similar bills that would permanently restore the “three store” limit on retail liquor stores in South Carolina.

As an owner of a small family-owned liquor store, I see all sides of the case being made for changing this decades-old limit, but I still believe it should remain at only three stores per family or corporation.

Just like you, I strongly support true free markets, however there is not and never will be anything close to a free market in the hard-liquor retail business in South Carolina. This is due to both federal and state laws that strictly control where and How our wholesale liquor inventories may be acquired.

Please take a moment to review the enclosed photo!

(Click to view)

(Via: Provided)

Please consider this, How does the small family owned hardware store in the enclosed photo compete with the Lowe’s store that is less than half a mile down the road from it?

Here is how: It successfully competes by being allowed to join a nationwide cooperative network of over 4000+ “True Value Hardware Stores.” When hammers are needed, the mom and pop hardware stores can deal with the manufacture as a group of 4000+ buyers and acquire truckloads of the product as cheaply – and in some cases cheaper – than Lowe’s or Home Depot.

That’s how they manage to successfully compete with the megastores!

Now I kindly ask you to switch your thought and consideration back to our independent, family-owned liquor Stores here in South Carolina.

I have a friend who also own liquor stores, but if I even attempt to split a large purchase with my friend’s store to get a low-cost large volume price, my friend and I could both be charged with very serious crimes by the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division (SLED).

If the three store rule goes away, a big box retailer could place one single huge order for all of its 135 South Carolina stores whereas my friend and I could face criminal charges if we team up together to power-buy for our two little stores!

Does this sound like a free market to you?

What if fifty South Carolina liquor store owners all meet in Myrtle Beach this spring and attempted to form a co-operative (akin to True Value hardware or Ace hardware) the goal being to make large group purchases in an attempt compete against the mega retailers.

Again, the co-operative imagined above would face an immediate raid by SLED agents who would be well within current law to confiscate all of their business inventories, revoke their liquor licenses, and even threaten jail time.

Does this seem like a level playing field much less a free market?

The S.C. Supreme Court’s ruling last year against the longstanding limit IN NO WAY opened up or created a new free market.  The court simply created an environment where an item-specific (*Hard Liquor) oligopoly will likely arise.

I’m hoping this letter has made a logical and valid argument to you as to how even the most free-market leaning legislators can still support a bill that would once again make permanent South Carolina’s longstanding three-store limit law.

Thank you for reading my letter.


Ed Swicegood
Dilaws Liquor
Ladson, S.C.



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