Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A Good Idea-By Anyone's Standard

The hits just keep on coming-this time it's the Syracuse Post-Standard weighing in on support for the sale of wine in supermarkets: "So what's the big deal? You're shopping for groceries, planning a nice meal with friends. You want a bottle of wine to go along with it. If the grocery store offered a selection, you could take care of that errand at the same time. Convenient, right? So how come New York state hasn't allowed wine to be sold in grocery stores for decades? Good question. Gov. David Paterson wants to lift the ban. He says it could bring in close to $160 million in license fees from the state's 18,000 grocery outlets over the next two years. He also argues that it would be good for consumers, and good for business -- including the $3.4 billion New York state wine industry."

And the paper vivisects the liquor store fear tactics: "The gist of the liquor industry's complaint is that things are just fine the way they are. The "mom-and-pop" stores provide jobs for thousands of New Yorkers -- as many as 2,000 in Central New York alone. Wine constitutes more than 50 percent of liquor-store sales. Allowing grocery stores to sell it could doom 1,000 stores and 4,000 jobs, according to an industry study. Not to mention spikes in alcoholism, drunk driving and underage sales. But 35 other states allow wine sales in grocery stores -- and liquor stores. While drunk-driving may be more prevalent in states like Florida and California than New York, people also drive a lot more than in places like New York City."

But doesn't the increase in the number of outlets insure a spike in underage sales? Not according to the Post-Standard: "Concern about increased DWIs concedes there might be expanded sales -- which seems to be the case. In Washington state, the year after grocery stores began selling wine, sales increased by more than 50 percent -- while wine sales in liquor stores generally stayed close to pre-expansion levels. Keeping wine out of the hands of juveniles is imperative. But so is keeping them away from the beer that already is being sold in grocery stores."

Which means to us that, if measures can be added that insure better training of store personnel-as well as more vigilant enforcement of law breaking-a compromise can be reached to allay the fears of some that proliferation means greater inebriation; as well as more drinking and driving tragedies. If the opposition isn't being simply disingenuous about its concerns over this issue.

Of course, the liquor stores do need some help to modernize; and the Post-Standard agrees: "The logic of allowing wine sales in grocery stores is compelling. But before moving ahead with this proposal, lawmakers should try and make it fairer for liquor store owners who have invested in their enterprises and played by the rules. One of those rules bars them from selling anything but wine and liquor. Another prevents them from owning more than one store. What about allowing liquor stores to sell mixers, snacks, accessories -- and beer? How about eliminating the one-store-only rule?"

Exactly what Senator Espada has proposed to do; which means that there is a very palatable middle ground that can be reached. And if the liquor store lobby resists? Well, as Rousseau once said, sometimes you have to force people to be free.