Down to Business: Let lager New York supermarkets sell wine

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DOWN TO BUSINESS – I’ll admit to doing a happy dance upon seeing headlines mid-month that New York might once again contemplate wine sales in supermarkets.

I got a taste of that convenience a few years back job-searching in the Washington, D.C., area, and liked it. The inventory might not have been deep, but there usually was a familiar label to pair with my microwavable dinner.

New York remains in the minority of states that don’t let supermarkets sell wine (40 do), so woe is us.

But two legislators introduced companion bills in the Assembly and Senate to change that, proposing that supermarkets of at least 5,000 square feet, deriving at least 65% of sales from food-related products, and that already have beer-retailing licenses, be permitted to sell wine.

Convenience stores, drugstores, big-box retailers and supercenters would be specifically excluded as sellers under the legislation.

Supermarkets would pay a $10,000 licensing fee per location, but could get a break on the cost of annual renewal based on the quantity of New York-made wines sold.

Restricting wine sales to liquor/wine stores traces to Prohibition, according to a bill memo accompanying the legislation. But times have changed, it says, and “If consumers can be trusted to buy beer in supermarkets, they should be given the option to purchase wine with their groceries as well.”

Behind the proposal are Assemblywoman Pamela Hunter, D-Syracuse, and Sen. Liz Krueger, D-Manhattan, who tout the convenience to consumers and benefits to state wine producers.

But let’s be realistic for a moment.

The timing of the Hunter/Krueger bills isn’t ideal, coming a month before the end of a legislative session that already was upended by drawn-out budget deliberations that left some big issues hanging, including Gov. Kathy Hochul’s grand scheme to add 800,000 housing units across the state over the next decade.

Then there was the report from a special commission tasked to study New York’s liquor laws and make recommendations on modernizing them, released just before the Hunter/Krueger proposal. Established last year, the panel contemplated 28 reforms and recommended 18 to be considered for enactment — but selling wine in supermarkets was not among them.

That suggestion failed to reach the nine-vote threshold needed to move forward. Opponents echoed the common refrain that allowing supermarket sales would kill wine and liquor stores.

But a late-2022 study from researchers at the University of Connecticut, which gauged consumer sentiment as well as the economic impact of letting supermarkets sell wine in that state, showed that increasing convenience would not harm incumbent sellers. Consumers backed the idea by 80%, according to the study, which signaled “a market large enough to accommodate additional outlets without hurting existing vendors.”

The study was done for the Connecticut Food Association, which supported supermarket sales. The measure failed to make it out of legislative committee in March, though, according to media reports.

So much for my happy dance.

Marlene Kennedy is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in her column are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Reach her at  [email protected].

Categories: Opinion, Opinion

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