Brookline liquor store managers split on effect of alcohol salestax repeal
Wicked Local staff photo by Keith E. Jacobson
At Foley's Liquors on Cypress Street, Victor Barakat, co-owner, discusses wine selection with Lubna Farhat onMonday, November 8.
By Laura Paine/staff writer
Wicked Local BrooklinePosted Nov 10, 2010 @ 02:13 PM
Brookline — Liquor merchants throughout Brookline have different ideas about how theirsales will be affected now that Massachusetts residents have voted to repeal the sales tax onalcohol, but many agree that dropping the tax will benefit customers.Local voters disagreed with statewide voters: Approximately 75 percent of Brooklineresidents voted to keep the 6.25 percent sales tax put in place in August 2009, by Gov. DevalPatrick and the state Legislature. Statewide, 52 percent voted in favor of the repeal, whichwill take effect Jan. 1.David Ng, operating managing partner of Coolidge Corner Wine and Spirits on BeaconStreet, said that most of the store’s patrons live within a few blocks and usually walk to maketheir purchases.“As far as how much it affects this store, we’re not as exposed as a lot of our peer storesare in the north and south. If you’re near the New Hampshire border, it would affect [sales] alot. I think for our actual sales, we’re a neighborhood store, and most of the folks who shophere live in the neighborhood.”But he also said that the repeal can only help. Carrie Anne Kelly, managing partner of Brookline Fine Wine and Spirits on Harvard Street, said that the tax did have a seriousimpact on her sales.“When the tax was put into effect, all of us were impacted by it heavily,” Kelly said. “Tosee business slow by nearly a third overnight was really disturbing. People were not onlycurtailing their spending, but traveling out of state to do spending.”Victor Barakat, co-owner of Foley’s Liquors on Cypress Street, voted in favor of therepeal because it was a form of double taxation.“The numbers show that [the sales tax] did not hurt us whatsoever,” Barakat said. “Wesupported it because it was a tax on tax, not because of any business benefits, but it will helpthe consumer for sure. If it wasn’t pre-taxed before it comes to the consumer then it’s fine,you can add a tax on it, but why are you taxing the tax?”Alcohol is already subject to a separate excise tax, though the state allocated money fromthe added sales tax to substance abuse and prevention programs, as well as probationdepartments and programs that put drug offenders into treatment, rather than prison. Barakatsaid he isn’t sure that the tax revenue was actually funding the programs it was supposed to.“I was looking at statistics, going online and talking with a group of people whoorganized the Vote Yes on One campaign,” he said. “They were showing that the moneythat’s coming into the state from the sales tax, about 80 percent was not going to rehabcenters. I don’t think the state is going to hurt from losing the revenue it was generating.They should find other ways of generating tax money other than taxing something that wasalready taxed.”State Sen. Cindy Creem said that as far as she knows, the money is going to funding thestate programs. She said she was against repealing the tax, and that the argument that it was atax on a tax is not valid.“What’s unfortunate is there are some really good programs being funded by that tax,”Creem said. “It wasn’t understood by people what the tax meant. Forty-four states have asales tax on alcohol, and many have higher sales tax than we have. The excise tax at thewholesale level is very small. The argument that is was a tax within a tax is not a goodargument. If we subtracted the excise tax it would still bring in a lot of revenue. My concernat this point is that I don’t know what we are going to do about those programs.”