A bill pending in the state Legislature to expand the sale of wine into grocery stores is a welcome and long overdue response to consumer demand.
We want choice. We want convenience. Why won’t the state let us have what we want?
A recent Siena College poll shows that voters statewide support allowing grocery stores to sell wine by a margin of 75% to 18%. The numbers are similar when broken down by political affiliation, upstate-downstate, male-female and age.
Try finding another issue on which New Yorkers so strongly agree.
The bill under consideration (A6989/S6786) begins to address the consumer convenience issues by allowing shoppers to save a trip to the liquor store when they’re doing their food shopping by allowing sales of wine in grocery stores.
Why shouldn’t you be able to pick up all the supplies for your dinner or holiday party in one location? Lifting the restriction on wine sales in grocery stores is a welcome change from the past.
The bill also addresses concerns by New York’s winemakers and grape growers that grocery stores would buy their wines from national chains, shutting them out of the grocery market. The legislation provides incentives to grocery stores to sell New York wines by offering a discount on their annual license renewal fees based on sales of New York wines.
But the bill also falls short in a number of areas.
For starters, for all their talk about convenience, shopper choice is limited by this legislation to places where people tend to do the majority of their grocery shopping – grocery stores. Only stores in which at least 65% of sales are food related will be able to sell wine.
That means you won’t be able to pick up a bottle of wine while you’re shopping for drapes, school supplies and TVs at Walmart, Target, BJ’s or other big-box stores, even though those stores also sell groceries.
The convenience also stops at convenience stores like Stewart’s and Cumberland Farms, and at drug stores like CVS and Walgreens, which also often sell groceries. That’s because the bill sets a minimum square footage of 5,000 square feet on stores that can sell wine.
Also, in their desire to expand the options offered by grocery stores, this legislation ignores the impact on the businesses with the most to lose by its passage — liquor stores.
Liquor stores get nothing in exchange for giving up their exclusivity in the wine market. And that’s not fair.
It’s true, that liquor stores will still retain the exclusive right to sell spirits. And they won’t have to compete with the big-box stores or convenience stores for wine sales.
And in states like Florida, where grocery stores can sell wine, liquor stores thrive.
But the state could help offset the tangible losses that liquor stores will suffer by making some reasonable concessions that won’t hurt the grocery stores and will add to the convenience factor.
For instance, they could expand the very limited types of items that liquor stores are allowed to sell.
One bill (S3568) would allow liquor stores to sell items like bitters, tonic water and Maraschino cherries.
Another bill (A2799) would allow them to sell items like gourmet foods. This legislation would also allow liquor store owners to open a second store, thereby allowing them to sell more products.
Other proposed legislation would expand the hours during which liquor stores could be open, allowing them to open earlier and stay open later on weekdays, Sundays and holidays. That could help them recover some of the lost sales as well.
It’s about time lawmakers gave consumers the option they desire to buy wine at grocery stores. But lawmakers also need to ensure that liquor stores don’t suffer needlessly in the process.
Why limit the benefits of this change to some, when everyone has a chance to win?