This week, the New York State Legislature is expected to take up the topic of wine sales in supermarkets once again.
Thanks to legislation being introduced by Assemblyman Joseph Morelle, D-Monroe County (Rochester/Finger Lakes area), shown at right, the debate will be broadened to take into account opposition to such legislation by liquor store owners and others.
An earlier proposal by Gov. David Paterson fizzled out in the face of strong opposition and lack of protections for current wine sellers, primarily liquor store owners who expressed fears they would be driven out of business by expanded competition, particularly from major companies whose reach is much wider than their self-described "mom and pop" status.
I discussed the new approach with Morelle, who said he felt the governor's proposal did nothing to help liquor store owners and did not address drinking-safety concerns for others.
"The concerns are not trivial," Morelle said, "but we cannot remain stuck in a business model created in 1920 when the size of wine industry we now have could not have been foreseen.
"There are only 2,500 sales outlets for the state's 19 million people, and the number of liquor stores gets smaller each year. That does nothing to help nurture our expanding wine industry which is an important part of the state's agricultural picture. We're now the third-largest grower of grapes in the nation, but it is difficult to adequately supply New York wines to consumers because of the limited number of sales outlets."
Morelle listed the main points of his plan:
• More than one liquor store license could be owned by an individual or company. They now are limited to a single location.
• Liquor store owners would be allowed to make purchases on a cooperative basis, thus allowing them to get best-price deals based on larger volume.
• Liquor stores would be able to sell directly to restaurants and taverns of less than 1,000 square feet.
• A medallion system would be put in place to freeze the number of licenses, then allow a small increase in the number each year.
• A product list would be created by the State Liquor Authority (SLA) to allow sales at liquor stores of such things as food items, gift bags, T-shirts, etc., all of which now are prohibited.
• Anyone purchasing any kind of alcoholic beverage would have to provide proof of legal age.
"Our current legislative session runs through the end of June, so I'm not sure how far we'll get with this, but it should expand and energize the discussion," Morelle said. "It's not a small matter and we need to fix it in a fair, thorough way to give more business people an even break."
How open is the wine country politician to discussion?
"I'll talk to anyone with any point of view," he said. "No one wants to hurt anyone, but we can't keep going in this archaic structure. The experience of other states that allow wine sales in supermarkets shows a huge increase in revenues for the state, jobs being created on a variety of levels, and better opportunities for many more people."
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