Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Supermarket Crisis

As liquor stores continue to complain about the threat posed by opening up the wine market to other retail outlets-conjuring visions of shuttered stores on main street-we continue to receive new evidence that local supermarkets are in dire need of government help. As the NY Times reported last week, Manhattan Borough President Stringer is calling for a tax incentive program to bring more markets into underserved areas: "In a report to be released on Saturday, he is calling for the city to make healthy food more widely available by giving farmers’ markets and supermarkets tax and zoning incentives..."

Stringer wants to create "food enterprise zones," where tax and zoning would be used to preserve local food stores and, hopefully, incentivize the building of new supermarkets. In our view, it's about time that some elected official in the city came up with at least some plan-the mayor's only achievement has been to huff and puff; except when the health commissioner is devising cockamamie schemes to push more peddlers into low income areas.

Still, we have a companion idea that should be developed along side any incentive program: roll back taxes on local stores and cut back on their regulatory burden. This means, right off the bat, that the state should avoid the expansion of a bottle bill that increases the costs for city stores. In addition, by lifting the ban on the sale of wine, the state would help local supermarkets be more profitable, without any special tax incentives needed.

If, as the city and the state have argued, local supermarkets are a key to public health, than making them more profitable so that they can stay in inner city neighborhoods, should be seen as a tad more important than insuring an everlasting liquor store monopoly. If there is to be a "last store standing" on main street, it should be the one selling healthy food; not the one whose only product is wine and distilled spirits.