Monday, March 09, 2009

News Refuses to be Buffaloed

In its lead editorial on Saturday, the Buffalo News joined with a number of other editorial outlooks, and strongly endorsed the sale of wine in grocery stores; and in doing so in a thorough and comprehensive manner, the paper insightfully shredding the opposition arguments:

"For the 2,600 or so (mostly) small businesses that now enjoy a legal monopoly on the sale of wine in New York, there is no good time to change the rules. They fear the loss of that monopoly will put many of them out of business...But there is evidence from the other 35 states that do allow supermarket wine sales that wineries can benefit and that the impact would not be that draconian on smaller stores, which still would hold a monopoly on liquor sales and still can offer better selections, knowledgeable sales staff and better service. New York now ranks 47th in the number of places per capita where wine can be bought, and states with supermarket sales also have more liquor stores."

But let's not bother with the facts when we can impugn the governor's integrity; or create a strawman argument over drunk driving. And the News also argues cogently that any change in the law should be used to benefit liquor stores as well-and we agree: "If supermarket customers gain the right to buy a little wine with their cheese, though, antiquated liquor store rules also should be changed to allow customers there to buy a little cheese with their wine—or crackers, beer, chips, glassware, gift bags and other items such stores are not now allowed to sell. And wine sale hours also should be equal." Sounds like the basis for a negotiated settlement, doesn't it?

But that's hard to do when the only response from the liquor lobby is: No compromise! Yet, the News is little convinced that-whatever the dire threats predicted by the monopolists-preserving the protection racket makes good public policy sense: "Most businesses—restaurants, hardware stores, newspapers— also are threatened by economic changes, and yet they neither seek nor receive legal immunity from competition."

The Wine Spectator agrees, and sees that compromise is indeed viable: "The legislators negotiating over the details of the bill are exploring compromises that might soften the blow for wine and liquor stores. One idea is to remove restrictions on such stores—currently they are not allowed to sell food or party supplies. They are also forbidden to have more than one location, which makes expansion near impossible."

The Buffalo News also sees the good things in the measure for the state's beleaguered wineries: "Reported experiences elsewhere suggest that more wine sales are good news for home-state wine makers and their suppliers, where new jobs could easily overwhelm any losses from liquor stores closings. That’s been the case in Washington, a state that has seen its own wine industry more than triple, surpassing New York’s as the second largest in the nation, after the number of retail outlets there was increased."

And what about the drunk driving strawman? The News is skeptical: "And grocers, who already have established their ability to safely handle the sale of beer, seem equal to the task of legally selling wine, a product that is a distant second to beer as the beverage of choice for drunken drivers." The 80 year monopoly makes little sense-for either economic growth or consumer interest; and a change in the law would benefit everyone; even the liquor stores. We'll give the News the last good word: "Wine is supposed to maketh a heart glad, not give Albany heartburn. The market seems big enough for everyone, and all should benefit from a new, more rational, system."