Granting liquor licenses to a local gas station/Burger King complex in Prospect will open a “Pandora’s Box” that could eventually “kill off” locally operating liquor stores, three store owners told the Liquor Licensing Board Monday.
The objections of the liquor store owners to businessman Gary Rutty’s application to sell beer and wine in his soon-to-be-opened convenience store on Shamrock Road were merely attempts to “maintain their monopoly” over the local alcohol industry, according to Mr. Rutty’s attorney.
The liquor board had not made its decision on Mr. Rutty’s application as of press time Monday.
Local attorney Cline Glidden, Jr., representing Mr. Rutty, told board members that his client was a well-established businessman who had run a number of customer service establishments, including the local Burger King franchise and Stingers Restaurant at the Comfort Suites hotel. Mr. Glidden said there was no reason to believe Mr. Rutty and his wife would run the new business on Shamrock Road any differently than the others.
“The objections [of the liquor store owners] are not founded in any deficiencies in my client’s application,” Mr. Glidden said. “They see it as in their best interests to limit competition.”
None of the objectors, who included Tortuga founder Robert Hamaty and Liquor-4-Less owner Prentice Panton, said their concerns involved Mr. Rutty, who Mr. Hamaty described as a “family friend.” Rather, Mr. Hamaty said, a successful application by Mr. Rutty would pave the way for an international conglomerate, Rubis, to open other gas station liquor stores and get into the liquor distribution side of the business.
Mr. Hamaty said that he was aware of other international retailers operating in Cayman, including Cost-U-Less, who were keen to get into the liquor distribution business.
Eventually, Mr. Hamaty said, even “the big boys” in the local liquor business would be underpriced and cut out of the distribution end of the market, where the “real money” is made, he said. Liquor sales, meanwhile, would occur at every corner store, supermarket and petrol station.
“There [are] going to be umpteen applications,” he told the board. “There are 76 retail package stores [on the island]. My company employs 120 people. If every gas station gets a liquor license … the industry is threatened.”
One of the key points raised by the objectors to Mr. Rutty’s liquor license was that a Cabinet order, first made in 2002, forbade the sale of intoxicating liquor at gas stations. Mr. Hamaty said that Cabinet order was continued through the present day, save for a handful of petrol stations (one in George Town and two in Bodden Town) who had effectively been “grandfathered” in for their own liquor licenses during the 1970s and 1980s.
However, Mr. Glidden said that Cabinet order was made by a previous government and he argued that changes approved to the local Liquor Licensing Law, which took effect last year, made the order moot.
Mr. Hamaty asked for the attorney general to issue an opinion on the matter.