the New York State De partment of Budget’s many breathless
proposals to save, grab or reclaim money, the one of most
concern to this column is a proposal to allow wine sales in
grocery stores. It’s pitched to accrue something like $150
million over the next three years ($105 million the first
year; far less thereafter), most of it coming from the licensing
fees the supermarkets would pay.
all 19,000 grocery and convenience stores across the state
would actually pony up is but one of many variables projected
into this proposal. But the Business Council of New York State
has eagerly signed off on the issue, promising that it “will
create new markets for upstate and Long Island wineries and
convenience for consumers,” according to council president
Kenneth Adams. “In addition, the proposal will generate new
revenue for the cash-strapped state.” It’s a point of view
no doubt shared by two of the council’s board members with
a large stake in the issue: Paul S. Speranza, Jr., general
counsel and secretary to Wegmans, and Neil Golub, CEO of Price
patriotic drumbeat sounds under the pro-grocery store rhetoric,
suggesting that New York’s wineries will find a wonderland
of new sales outlets in these supermarkets, and that New York’s
customers will leave those supermarkets with piles of the
state’s product in their carts.
press conference in Albany last week, Golub said, “I don’t
think the wine and liquor stores do as good a job as we do
in terms of promoting New York products.” Of course, if you’ve
tried to buy New York-produced maple syrup or honey in one
of his local stores, you’ll appreciate the fantasy inherent
in that statement.
the budget measure is opposed by a large number of New York’s
wineries—including 95 percent of the Long Island producers—the
New York State Wine Grape Growers and the New York Farm Bureau
both have aligned themselves behind the measure, also seeing
acres of new shelf space in those 19,000 stores. But unless
backroom promises are going unreported, there’s been no commitment
from the stores to anyone for anything.
now, wine is sold across the state in 2,600 licensed liquor
stores, and accounts for the majority of sales in those stores—65
to 80 percent—far outstripping the sale of spirits. Liquor
carries a much higher excise tax, and thus affords a smaller
profit margin, another reason why the supermarkets are avoiding
it. (However, the state’s budget proposal also seeks to triple
the excise tax on wine from 18.9 to 51 cents per gallon.)
Federation of Independent Business members voted to oppose
the proposal (67 to 30 percent), and an advocacy group called
Last Store on Main Street (last mainstreetstore.com), representing
2,742 New York winesellers and liquor-store owners, says the
move would force more than 1,000 stores out of business and
lead to a loss of more than 4,000 jobs, prompting a sharp
spike in the state’s unemployment payments.
contains three times the alcohol level of beer, so if you’re
looking for a quick buzz, it could become your beverage of
choice. Law Enforcement Against Drunk Driving chairman Dan
Sisto announced early last month that a review of recent State
Liquor Authority data showed that nearly 90 percent of violations
for serving minors in off-premise stores were in grocery and
stores, by definition, are gatekeepers. “If they’re under
21, we don’t even let them come in and browse,” says Delaware
Plaza Liquor Store owner Todd Yutzler.
35 other states allow wine sales in grocery stores, no such
measure has been passed in 23 years. Florida, California and
Texas, where wine is widely available, boast alcohol-related
fatality statistics that are twice the number in New York,
and three times higher for deaths of those under 21.
the issue of wine in grocery stores a “no-brainer,” Albany
Times Union columnist Fred Le Brun recently wrote,
“The advantages of New York selling wine in grocery stores,
particularly in these economically off-the-cliff times, are
so obvious and overwhelming as to be self-evident. New York
consumers would instantly encounter vastly more choice and
convenience in terms of availability, which in turn translates
into more wine sales, happier drinkers, more state sales tax
and far more outlets for the state wine industry. Who could
as it happens—the many who’ve seen how big-box consolidation
has ruined so many other specialty businesses, like hardware
stores, book stores, clothing shops, butcher shops, and restaurants.
Personal service is killed, and money flows out of the state
into corporate coffers elsewhere. Putting wine in Wal-Mart
ultimately benefits only some Arkansas millionaires.
are some for whom buying wine is a process of grabbing a bottle
of Yellow Tail. Those people would be understandably enthusiastic
about finding their plonk on the grocery-store shelves. For
the rest of us, wine buying is a journey, an exploration.
As with dining, it invites you to stray from familiar paths.
to serving as a deterrent to too-young drinkers, wine stores
offer staff members who share your eagerness and will guide
your way, through tastings and other sales events, to the
recommendations they make based on personal knowledge.
as a whole has been too arrogant and greedy to resist the
big-box invasion that put so many of our neighbors out of
business. Wine drinkers are a more discriminating minority
and understand that exploration is part of the fun. At this
point, the matter is in the hands of our legislators. Let’s
let them know how we feel.