When the principals behind the Healthy Living Market and Cafe decided to open a second site just outside Saratoga Springs, they wanted to replicate the look and feel of the original store in South Burlington, Vt.
That meant big windows and earthen tones, bins for bulk coffee and trail mix, a butcher shop with hormone-free beef and poultry, and a well-stocked cheese department.
And “we knew we wanted to have wine,” said Eli Lesser-Goldsmith, general manager and co-owner of the family business, a natural foods grocery founded by his mother, Katy Lesser, in 1986. His sister, Nina, also is co-owner and serves as food education coordinator.
In New York, though, wine can be sold at retail only from liquor stores, not supermarkets.
So the family set up a separate business, Divine Wines, which occupies some 1,400 square feet in a storefront adjacent to the grocery. Both stores opened last week at Wilton Mall on Route 50, taking space left vacant when J.C. Penney moved in 2007 to another part of the mall.
The wine store, licensed by the State Liquor Authority, shares owners with Healthy Living Market, but Lesser-Goldsmith said it has its own identity, cash register, hours of operation, storage area and entrance.
He credited the idea of offering wine through a separate business to grocers Wegmans and Whole Foods, which already blazed the trail. Whole Foods has had a wine store adjacent to its Manhattan store on Columbus Avenue on the Upper West Side since 2009. It’s the only wine store Whole Foods has in the state, spokesman Michael Sinatra said via email, “per NY state law.” Changing state law to let supermarkets sell wine has been the goal of grocers for several years. It’s permitted in more than 30 states but opposed in New York by liquor stores.
Last year, a roster of groups ranging from the state Farm Bureau to the Business Council of New York State touted an industry study that cited the economic benefits of allowing wine sales in food stores, including more jobs and sales tax revenue.
Business Council spokesman Rob Lillpopp said he wasn’t aware of any big legislative push this year, but said that could change once a new state budget is in place and attention can move on to other issues.
Should the law change, Lesser-Goldsmith said, it would be easy to “knock down a couple of walls” to incorporate Divine Wines into the Healthy Living Market space in Wilton.
Asked about the process of getting the wine store license, Lesser-Goldsmith said his stock answer was “We adhere to all state regulations.” He said the timeline for Healthy Living Market was about two years from conception to debut; it took about a year to secure the Divine Wines license. “It did take a long time.” He declined to specify the percentage of revenue coming from wine sales at the Vermont store, saying “all departments are important.” He expressed confidence that Divine Wines “will do really well” because of its “great mix of price points.”
“We know you can get a great bottle of wine for $15,” he said, and Divine Wines has plenty of choices above and below that price, too.
Lesser-Goldsmith was clearly pleased with the reception the Healthy Living Market received at its Wilton Mall unveiling.
“We were slammed — in a great way,” he told me by phone this week.
Marlene Kennedy is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in her column are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Reach her at email@example.com.