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Grocers versus liquor store owners

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Thanks to a relatively obscure provision in Governor David Paterson’s proposed budget, alcohol consumers may soon be able to get their favorite wines at the supermarket or even at the corner deli.

But the measure has the packaged liquor and supermarket lobbies throwing more darts at each other than an English pub on payday.

Paterson’s provision in the budget would add about $105 million next year to the state coffers and about $54 million in 2010 in franchise fees on groceries and convenience stores that already sell beer and who wish to get the license.

“Obviously we don’t want to see this happen,” said Michael Correra, chair of the Metropolitan Package Store Association (MPSA)  and owner of Michael Towne Wines and Spirits, 73 Clarke Street in Brooklyn Heights.

“We have been selling wine since Prohibition in 1933 and now because of a promise the groceries made to the Governor, 1,000 such stores statewide would go out of business in the first year,” he said.

Correra said the change would also have a social impact as studies have shown that in states where wine is more readily available, DWI deaths and underage drinking are at considerably higher levels.

James Benedetto, owner of Scotto’s Wine Cellar, 318 Court Street, which he said has been open at its location since Prohibition was repealed, is concerned about labor laws and the cost of enforcement.

“We’re not allowed to hire anyone under 18 and in drug stores and bodegas they have 16-year-olds working. So sales to  minors is a big issue,” said Benedetto.

“It will also cost the state more to hire enforcement agents at a time when they are cutting back on them,” he added.

But Jennifer Carlson, who represents several supermarket chains in the state including Whole Foods, said the measure could actually help package liquor stores.

“From the supermarket perspective, we believe wine is a food product that belongs with food and should be paired with food,” said Carlson. “Wine shops will still have bigger selections and sophisticated wine drinkers will still continue to go to wine stores. We’re talking about people who could buy wine as an incremental sale in addition to their groceries.”

Carlson also argued the measure would be a boon to the New York state wineries, many of which have internationally recognized and award-winning wines.

“In the rest of the country, the wine industry has boomed, but in New York it has declined and the reason for that is we don’t allow an open market for the sale of wine,” she said.

“In comparison, California and Washington has six times as many outlets per person than New York,” Carlson added.

Kenneth Adams, the former president of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce and current president and CEO of The Business Council of New York State, said that the proposal would be “good for the economy and good for consumers.”

“Allowing supermarkets and grocery stores to sell wine will create new markets for upstate and Long Island wineries and convenience for consumers,” Adams went on. “In addition, the proposal will generate new revenue for the cash-strapped state.”

-with Helen Klein


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