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Effort To Allow Wine Sales in New York Grocery Stores Returns

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"I think as a small shop owner, it's going to have a big impact on my business. " ~ Joe Maloney, owner, the Wine Shop in Albany.
Dave Lucas/WAMC

Efforts in New York state to legalize wine sales in grocery stores have been fiercely opposed by liquor store owners for nearly two decades. The issue is back again this year.

Legalizing wine sales in grocery and convenience stores along with the inclusion of streamlining liquor licensing and application processes were raised in Governor Kathy Hochul’s State of the State. The Democrat announced her intent to update alcohol and beverage control laws last year.

Paul Zuber is Executive Vice President of the Business Council of New York State. “There are 40 other states that have wine and grocery stores. 40 other states, right? So it's working in 40 other states," said Zuber. "Now, I will I will admit that not every state's law in every way every state has done it is perfect. But there's a lot of different models to choose from. And I think when you look at the polling, the public in New York state wants wine in grocery stores, the general public wants wine in grocery stores, they want to be able to go to the grocery store, pick up the groceries and buy a bottle of wine.”

In a November Siena College poll, New York voters supported being able to buy wine in grocery stores 75-19%. The survey included at least two-thirds of voters from every party and every region.

Opponents argue it would put many small liquor stores out of business and cost the state thousands of jobs.

Joe Maloney owns the Wine Shop on New Scotland Avenue in Albany.

“I think as a small shop owner, it's going to have a big impact on my business," Maloney said. "We don't rely as much on the big national brand items as some of the biggest stores do. But it would still put a dent in our business because people will choose to get those items at the store, at the grocery store, while they're there. So, while I might not see a negative effect on my business as some of the bigger stores that are anchored in grocery shopping centers, I'll still feel I still feel the effect of it.”

Sponsors of the most recent bill, Democrats State Senator Liz Krueger and Assemblymember Pamela Hunter, argue the rules are antiquated and inconvenient consumers.

If the legislation passes, Maloney thinks his shop may have a better chance of survival than similar stores across the city and county.

“Better than better than most stores. I think just because of the customer base. It's a neighborhood. It's a lot of walk-ins. A lot of people walking with the kids, walking with their dogs. We have five colleges and three hospitals within a half a mile. And so I think we're somewhat insulated in that regard. But I still think that we would feel the effects of a lot of the wines I carry, putting into grocery stores who can, by the way, get them for a lot less money than I can,” said Maloney. 

Zuber served on last year's Commission to Study Reform of the Alcohol Beverage Control Law, which was tasked with determining how best to modernize New York’s Prohibition-era alcohol laws. There's been no agreement reached on allowing grocery stores to sell wine. He hopes lawmakers can make a decisive move this session.

Zuber says " needs to have a clear, open and honest debate within the legislature."

Democratic Assemblymember Pat Fahy of the 109th district in Albany is sympathetic to liquor store owners. “On selling wine in grocery stores, I have not supported that because we have what is a bit of an archaic system. But we have already very defined liquor store distributors for wine and hard alcohol. And many of those are very small business owners, it's very restricted as to who can sell it. And I don't think it would be fair to allow more corporatized large grocery stores to compete with these small business owners,” Fahy said.

This story was originally published on 2/2/2024 on WAMC.