Change rushed through committee would allow liquor behind store counters

Vodka bottles in a store. Source: Anna Aurelia Minev/ERR

A bill aimed at postponing local governments' submission of budget strategies due to the emergency situation is entering its second reading in the Riigikogu on Thursday. A change proposed at the last minute, however, would enable the bill to allow small stores to display bottles of alcohol visibly behind the store counter.

Current legislation requires alcohol in stores to be positioned in such a way that it is out of shoppers' sight. An exception was made for small stores, where it isn't possible to fulfill this requirement. Retailers find that it isn't possible to fulfill legal requirements as currently outlined at many rural grocery stores due to their small size.

Small retailers turned to the Association of Estonian Cities and Municipalities with the request to amend the law to allow small stores to display alcohol visibly behind the store counter.

The appeal by the Estonian Small Retailers Association was signed by OG Elektra (Grossi Toidukaubad) board member Gea Gross and RRLektus (Meie Toidukaubad) board member Rein Reinvee. The small retailers find that granting their request wouldn't incur any additional costs to the state, but rather spare many stores from closing and help ensure their sustainability.

The main goal of the bill headed for its second reading in the Riigikogu is to extend the deadlines for the submission of local governments' budget strategies and development plans delayed by the emergency situation. The Finance Committee has proposed rewording a section of the Alcohol Act that calls for alcohol to be kept separate from other goods for sale as part of the second reading of the former bill.

Under the proposed change, alcoholic beverages could also be kept in the area of the store where the cash register is located and which is not accessible to shoppers, just as small retailers want.

Committee rushes proposed change

According to Finance Committee member Riina Sikkut (SDE), the proposed change was rushed through the committee and is not related to the content of the rest of the bill in question. It is likewise unknown how many stores would be affected by the proposed change.

"As no one has an understanding of what this actual means, that is a concern," Sikkut told ERR. "These kinds of regulations could actually mean the rearranging of sales floors, investments, and are a burden to business-owners."

According to the MP, such changes are bad practice, as the change isn't substantiated and there is no analysis regarding which stores and to what extent this change would affect. "It's strange that decisions are made rushed like this," she added.

Sikkut noted that when the restriction regarding the positioning of alcohol was first imposed on stores, thorough discussion was dedicated to how best to word it, how many stores would be capable of complying with these restrictions, and how they would work in stores in practice. Also discussed was what counts as a fridge and what counts as a shelf.

"It should be unambiguous to those upon whom this imposes obligations," the MP said. "How far can a [cash register] be located from a wall or shelf? If we're talking about a tiny store with an area of a couple dozen square meters, do they have to start rebuilding their counter to fulfill this legal requirement? In this case, how to check for the implementation of this law should be discussed with supervisory authorities, the Consumer Protection and Technical Regulatory Authority (TTJA)."

Finance Committee chairman Aivar Kokk (Isamaa) acknowledged when presenting the proposed change that the means by which the change was proposed doesn't follow best legal practice, however the closure of village stores is a source of concern for local governments.

The closure of a village store in local governments located further away from towns and cities is also closely tied to the local government, Kokk said before the Riigikogu at the bill's second reading.

According to the committee chairman, the wording of the proposed change is very precise ⁠— alcohol bottles must be located, together with the cash register, behind a store counter that cannot be accessed by shoppers. He noted that otherwise a cash register could be positioned in the middle of the sales floor. With the current wording, however, shoppers would not be able to directly access the alcohol.


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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