Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Wine Tasting

As the legislature prepares to introduce an expanded wine bill-one that will begin to allow liquor store operators to enter the new century-those who want to preserve the untenable status quo are still acting as if a state sponsored monopoly is good for both retailers and consumers. We'll now see if the majority of state law makers disagree with this antediluvian view: "A new proposal to sell wine in New York supermarkets is surfacing in Albany after liquor store interests helped kill an earlier bill. Democratic Assemblyman Joseph Morelle of Monroe County is proposing additional elements to the bill that would address long-standing concerns of liquor store owners worried that selling wine in supermarkets would kill their businesses."

James Odato of the Ties Union outlines the details: "Assemblyman Joseph Morelle, who is still seeking a law to allow wine sales in grocery stores, has drafted a bill he hopes will sell the idea before the session ends. His measure allows liquor stores to have multiple locations. It creates a medallion system to make a liquor license more liquid. It allows cooperative buying groups for package stores, and longer store hours; wine tastings would be easier to set up; and restrictions on selling to bodegas and restaurants would be lifted. And everyone buying alcohol would have to be proofed."

In other words. a win for all; but not everyone sees things this way. As one liquor store owner told CBS TV in NYC: "But liquor store owners fear the measure would drive out one of the state's last vestiges of mom-and-pop retail. "I just want to point out to you if this bill passes, to my right is a Food Emporium, to my left is another small kosher market, both of whom would be eager to start selling wines," said liquor store owner Gary Wartels of Skyview Wines in Riverdale. Wartels also said it could put many of the state's more than 2,700 liquor stores out of business."

But why would it do so? In over thirty other states liquor stores and supermarkets sell wine-often occupying the same shopping center without the feared cannibalization; and in those states the number of liquor stores often increases as wine sales go up. In other words. it's not the zero sum game that opponents of the Morelle bill allege.

In addition, as we have pointed out, this could be really good for struggling local supermarkets: "Allowing supermarkets, and food stores to sell wine would net the state nearly $160 million in licensing revenues in the first two years and help these retailers in a tough economy. "It would be good for supermarkets, particularly in New York city, because we have been losing supermarkets, 300 in the last five years," said Richard Lipsky of Gristedes."

Which, if it were to happen, would be a boon for Mom and Pop retailers-contrary to the self serving spin of opponents afraid of any changes in the outdated state laws on liquor selling. As Odato points out, it will also help the New York wineries; another small business niche that has been somehow forgotten in the propaganda blitz from the liquor lobby: ""It helps the wineries, helps the wine business in New York state," Morelle said. The initiative is expected to raise more than $100 million the first year by selling supermarkets licenses."

So with state revenues plummeting, and compromise in the air, it's up to the governor and the legislative leaders to take the Morelle bill and run with it. And in the case of the state treasury, it will be running straight to the bank!