NY supermarkets want to sell wine. Liquor stores say it will put them out of business


Tony Russo has been selling wine and liquor out of Aries Wine & Spirits in downtown White Plains for 35 years. It’s a family business that takes its name from the astrological sign he shares with his wife Andrea.

But every few years, it seems, the stars line up against them. Like this year. State lawmakers have reintroduced a measure that would allow supermarkets to sell wine.

If it passes, Russo says he and other liquor store owners may not survive.

“It’s tantamount to Russian roulette,” says Russo. “They keep firing at us and you know there’s only one bullet in the chamber and eventually…This is a perennial battle.”

Will this be the year the gun goes off?

Tony Russo, proprietor of Aries Wines and Spirits on West Post Road in White Plains, is pictured in his shop, Feb. 8, 2024.Tony Russo, proprietor of Aries Wines and Spirits on West Post Road in White Plains, is pictured in his shop, Feb. 8, 2024.

Tony Russo, proprietor of Aries Wines and Spirits on West Post Road in White Plains, is pictured in his shop, Feb. 8, 2024.

New Yorkers want wine in grocery aisles. But what’s the cost?

Supermarket behemoth Wegmans has gotten behind the bill, urging customers to sign a petition in support and commissioning Siena College to quiz state residents about their preference.

“Do you support or oppose allowing grocery stores to sell wine in New York State?” Siena asked in a legislative survey of its own in November.

Seventy-five percent said yes.

Wine and liquor store owners say it’s no surprise shoppers appear to prefer the convenience of picking up a bottle of wine while they’re out grocery shopping.

But they say the follow-up question should be: “What if it puts hundreds of small business owners out of business?”

JR Miller, owner, stands surrounded by New York State wines at Ryan's Wine & Spirits in Canandaigua Friday, Feb. 23, 2024.JR Miller, owner, stands surrounded by New York State wines at Ryan's Wine & Spirits in Canandaigua Friday, Feb. 23, 2024.

JR Miller, owner, stands surrounded by New York State wines at Ryan’s Wine & Spirits in Canandaigua Friday, Feb. 23, 2024.

“Upstate would be devastated,” said J.R. Miller, the third-generation owner of Ryan’s Wine and Spirits in Canandaigua, in the Finger Lakes. “New York says they’re for small business and we’re small businesses. This is not a bill that helps them.”

Ryan’s is located in a shopping plaza. To get there, customers need a car. And if they’re already at the grocery store, they may not bother driving to Ryan’s.

Ryan's Wine & Spirits located in the Parkway plaza, at 73 Eastern Blvd. in Canandaigua Friday, Feb. 23, 2024.Ryan's Wine & Spirits located in the Parkway plaza, at 73 Eastern Blvd. in Canandaigua Friday, Feb. 23, 2024.

Ryan’s Wine & Spirits located in the Parkway plaza, at 73 Eastern Blvd. in Canandaigua Friday, Feb. 23, 2024.

“Downstate you can get away with it because there’s a liquor store on every corner,” Miller said. “People order, have food delivered. But up here it’s a destination.”

Revenue from wine sales produce the bulk of his profits and Ryan’s is one of the state’s top sellers of New York wines.

“We’re in the heart of the Finger Lakes,” Miller says. “We’ve generated a good clientele. It is very important to us.”

A large variety of wines from New York State are one of the many featured spirits at Ryan's Wine & Spirits in Canandaigua Friday, Feb. 23, 2024.A large variety of wines from New York State are one of the many featured spirits at Ryan's Wine & Spirits in Canandaigua Friday, Feb. 23, 2024.

A large variety of wines from New York State are one of the many featured spirits at Ryan’s Wine & Spirits in Canandaigua Friday, Feb. 23, 2024.

Further south, Michael Correra runs Michael-Towne Wines & Spirits in a Brooklyn Heights neighborhood where there’s plenty of foot traffic and grocery stories are steps away.

And, he says, that distance is a good thing. Wine and liquor has its place. And it’s not in a grocery store, where families shop with young children.

“Do you really need your kids to be constantly exposed to booze?” says Correra, a third-generation owner whose grandfather secured one of the state’s first licenses to sell wine and liquor when Prohibition ended.

“Remember Camel Joe?,” he adds in a reference to the cartoon camel used in cigarette ads.

Correra doubles as the executive director of the Metropolitan Package Store Association, which represents some 3,300 independent wine and liquor stores across the state.

He says he won’t be able to pay his rent if the measure passes.

“I’m not some rich guy from Germany who owns a giant, privately-held grocery chain,” Correra said. “I’m a regular person. I want to come to work every day, pay my bills, feed my family.”

Or, as Russo put it: “Do you want to put out three or four thousand business people who are struggling to make a living or do we want one corporation owning the world?”

Landfills: NY’s recycling programs down in the dumps while more trash heads to landfills

Lawmakers: Do what’s convenient for consumers

State lawmakers who support the idea say the Prohibition-era restriction hurts consumers.

“This anachronistic model provides no consumer protections, but instead protects an entrenched monopoly that is to the detriment of convenient access for consumers,” the bill’s Democratic supporters write.

Its chief sponsor in the Senate is Liz Krueger of Manhattan, and in the Assembly Pamela Hunter of Syracuse.

New York Sen. Peter Harckham, left, announced his support of a bill to legalize marijuana sponsored by Sen. Liz Krueger, center, during a news conference at the state Capitol on Jan. 23, 2020.New York Sen. Peter Harckham, left, announced his support of a bill to legalize marijuana sponsored by Sen. Liz Krueger, center, during a news conference at the state Capitol on Jan. 23, 2020.

New York Sen. Peter Harckham, left, announced his support of a bill to legalize marijuana sponsored by Sen. Liz Krueger, center, during a news conference at the state Capitol on Jan. 23, 2020.

Similar measures have failed in past sessions.

Among the changes in the current version is a restriction on the size of the stores that can qualify — a minimum of 5,000 square feet. That would likely mean convenience stores, gas stations, quick marts and drug stores wouldn’t make the cut.

And to qualify, 65% of store sales have to be food-related, which would eliminate big box retailers and superstores, the bill’s sponsors note.

It also includes incentives for those that sell New York wines.

Bottles: They gather up cans and bottles on NY streets for recycling. And they could use a raise

What have other states done with wine sales in grocery stores?

Backing the measure is the Business Council of New York State, which represents large supermarkets.

Executive vice president Paul Zuber says 40 other states have already allowed the sale of wine in grocery stores in some form. He thinks the state can fashion a solution that doesn’t put independent liquor stores out of business, while giving consumers what they want.

“This bill should be one that allows us to have some discussions about what could work and what won’t work,” Zuber says. “Why can’t we find a model from one of those other states that would work in New York for the benefit of all.”

Wines and spirits are on display in every foot of space inside at Ryan's Wine & Spirits in Canandaigua Friday, Feb. 23, 2024.Wines and spirits are on display in every foot of space inside at Ryan's Wine & Spirits in Canandaigua Friday, Feb. 23, 2024.

Wines and spirits are on display in every foot of space inside at Ryan’s Wine & Spirits in Canandaigua Friday, Feb. 23, 2024.

In their arguments, Correra and other store owners point to a Colorado law passed last year, which they say led to a drop in sales of more than 30%. The law allows big box retailers to sell wine.

“I’ve said this to them a million times, ‘Ok, let’s not do the Colorado model ,’“ Zuber said. “Colorado is not the only one that does it.”

Other states, for instance, have placed restrictions on the number of licenses issued. Some allow liquor and wine to be sold in grocery stores.

Cocktails: Cocktails-to-go in New York still on the table: What Gov. Kathy Hochul proposes

He says the current setup, like other outdated New York alcoholic beverage laws, have failed to keep up with consumer habits.

“We all know the way people do business and the way consumers purchase items has completely changed,” Zuber says. “I would never have thought ten years ago to order wine on an app and then pull up to my liquor store and have somebody walk liquor to my car. You have to change as the world economy changes and that’s why we need to have this discussion.”

This article originally appeared on Rockland/Westchester Journal News: NY supermarkets want to sell wine. Liquor stores balk. Who will win?



Source link