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Majority favors wine sales at groceries and drugstores

The majority of respondents to this week’s RBJ Daily Report Snap Poll favors changing the state law that restricts wine sales to liquor stores and wineries. The poll results were similar to those when the same questions were posed a year ago.

In his 2010-11 budget proposal, Gov. David Paterson calls for allowing groceries and drugstores to add wine sales, which he estimated would generate more than $90 million this year in licensing fees. Unlike a similar proposal a year ago, Paterson’s new plan would allow liquor stores to sell directly to restaurants and other retailers; put an ATM on premises; open multiple stores; and sell food and other complementary products.

By a margin of 62 percent to 38 percent, readers support changing the law.

Supporters of grocery store wine sales, among them Wegmans Food Markets Inc. and the New York Wine Industry Association, have argued that allowing grocery stores and drugstores to add wine sales would help to close the state’s budget gap, create jobs, boost New York wineries, and provide greater convenience and variety for consumers.

Nearly 70 percent of respondents agree changing the law to allow grocery stores and drugstores will help Finger Lakes wineries.

Opponents such as the New York State Liquor Store Association have argued that the change could force many liquor stores to close, drain state revenues because of lower distilled spirits sales and give teens greater access to alcohol, increasing the risk of underage drinking and fatal driving accidents.

An RBJ Snap Poll a year ago asking the same questions found respondents favored granting grocers and drugstores permission to sell wine by a margin of 64 percent to 36 percent. A year ago, 71 percent said changing the law would help Finger Lakes wineries, slightly more than the 69 percent in the current poll.

Roughly 955 readers participated in this week’s poll, which was conducted Feb. 8 and 9.

Do you favor allowing grocery and drug stores in New York to sell wine?
Yes: 62%
No: 38%

In your view, would allowing New York grocery stores and drugstores to sell wine help or hurt small Finger Lakes wineries?
Help: 69%
Hurt 31%

Here are some comments from readers:

I don’t think we should heavily consider whether small stores will close or Finger Lakes wineries will benefit or other short-term local concerns. The only question that matters is "What approach leads to a freer market?" There is no reason in a free market to restrict liquor sales to certain types of stores. I’m not fond of Paterson’s motivation; he just wants more revenue from licensing fees. But in the end, the result will be better availability, more competition and more freedom. Any other questions about the impact on our local businesses and markets are quite frankly not the government’s concern. Let the free market hash that out.
—Todd VanHouten

To help balance the situation, also allow liquor stores to sell beer, snacks, etc. Lift government restrictions on blue law commerce.
—Joe Denny, Fairport

Price and convenience are what retailers sell. So long as grocery stores sell wine, then wine and spirits retailers should be allowed to sell whatever their customers demand. It’s called competition, and it can work for everyone. Although the wine stores cannot compete on price in most cases, they surely can compete with superior service and high-margin selection.
—R. Tarantello, Tarantello & Associates

We all know where to get our wine right now, don’t we? Do we really need to cause scores of locally owned small liquor stores to suffer or go out of business just so we can pick up some vino with our milk and eggs? How much money does Wegmans need to make before it is enough?
—Dan Palmer, Rochester

It would be great for Wegmans, obviously, and consumers generally, but it would be devastating to the many small mom-and-pop liquor stores throughout the state. I don’t think we want that.
—David Lamb

I am a small winery, and what I see is there are many small, family-owned grocers who would love to carry small local wines to complement all the locally owned produce they sell in their stores-way more than the majority of liquor stores that are more concerned with selling Yellow Tail and other foreign-owned brands. All you need to do is look at the liquor store advertisements in the paper to see what they really want to sell.
—Scott Osborn, Fox Run Vineyards

The wineries are more for tours and ambience and tastings. … The stores selling it would help for exposure and an outlet for people who can’t make it out that far every weekend.
—David DeMallie

I’ve spent time in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and New York. All the states seem to have hang-overs from the Prohibition era. The more outlets the Finger Lake and NYS wine makers have to sell their products, the better. I do feel sorry for the New York State liquor stores. They have been jerked around by New York State for too long. I never knew it was illegal for a New York State liquor store to sell a bag for wine until I heard of someone sued by New York State for a violation. Let the liquor stores sell more things. Give them some adjustment time to phase in the supermarket wine sales. Let liquor store owners own more than one liquor store. Let liquor stores be open more hours. And let me buy my wine at my Wegmans.
—Clifford Jacobson, WebHomeUSA.com

So the plan is to increase tax revenue by encouraging drinking. I’m not sure that this makes sense. Why would people buy more alcohol just because it’s available at a grocery store? Won’t they buy the same amount just at different places? That sounds like robbing Peter to pay Paul to me. New York State wineries would definitely suffer because grocery stores won’t want to stock the relatively small quantities they produce. They’ll go for the major brands that can supply the same product consistently.
—Jeff Luellen

My wife and I have lived in a number of states over the years, and New York is the first in a long time that still has such restrictions on free trade. I am a capitalist, and I firmly believe that the law should not get in the way of natural progression in companies finding the most efficient routes to market. The last three states we lived in not only allowed grocery stores and drugstores to sell wine, but they could also sell liquor.
—Mike Kaser, Penfield 

Hey, why not? Generate more taxes and fees. Heaven forbid they should cut taxes and fees. It’s time to vote them all out of office.
—Jim Duke, Victor

I think they should go a step further and allow liquor stores to sell beer as well. It would only seem fair.
—Mark Redding, Rush

Absolutely in favor. Any step that we can make in deregulation of commerce in our state is a step in the right direction. Making wine more available to the general public should help bolster upstate winery sales as well. Many people do not walk into a "liquor" store for many reasons, one of which is convenience.
—Don Eaton, Fairport

Our local shops could lose sales to grocery stores, especially in the low-price, high-volume, low-profit margin wine category. These businesses are people who entered the market as wine shop owners with the understanding that they would not be competing with big grocery stores. It’s not fair to switch it out from under them now. In my view, allowing New York grocery and drug stores to sell wine may hurt small Finger Lakes wineries? If New York Governor David Paterson’s legislation decides to change the rules regarding wine sales, they should do so in a manner that removes all of the artificial barriers that currently govern grocery stores and small wine shops. By allowing grocery stores to sell wine, spirits, beer and food we should then allow wine and liquor shops to sell wine, spirits, beer, and food. I’m not sure if the smaller wine and liquor shops are ready to sell groceries? Gov. David Paterson and New York State should level the playing field.
—Gregory Clyde

The Rochester area has many fine wine and liquor stores where a wide variety of wines are sold. Small Finger Lakes wineries get shelf space along with the finest names in wine, from France, Italy, California and more obscure wineries from New Mexico to Romania. In states that allow drug and grocery stores to sell wine, my experience is that they generally sell a limited variety of mid- to low-priced best-selling wines. I believe that allowing grocery and drug stores to sell wine will put many of the existing wine stores out of business and will, in the long run, reduce wine choices rather than enhance choice.
—Bill Moehle, Law Office of William Moehle

It may help small Finger Lakes wineries gain exposure to grocery shoppers—who may then stop buying table wine at liquor stores. The result will be more jobs lost when the liquor stores go out of business.
—Todd Fisher, Thomson-Reuters

As consumer who also has two young children and not a lot of free time to travel to different stores, I look for convenience. Being able to have a one-stop-shopping experience is appealing.
—Jeff Favalo, LayerONE Media

I support small-business owners, like the proprietors of liquor stores. Allowing wine to be sold in grocery stores (let’s be honest, this is all about Wegmans) would directly result in the demise of liquor stores. Oh, and if you think the "increased revenue" that wine sales in grocery stores will generate, then perhaps you just moved to New York State and are unfamiliar with our inefficient government.
—Vinny Dallo, LUTCF Financial Planner Legacy Financial Planning

I strongly oppose this concept. I believe that if Danny Wegman is able to control the cost of wine like beer and soda in our area, that he’ll have too much ability to lure us in and that once we’ve changed habits—jack up the prices. Also, our economy’s last hope is small business … why put so many in jeopardy, i.e. wineries and wine/liquor stores.
—Francis Eugene, Fairport

Sounds like a move toward more free enterprise. Such a move is both good and amazing for New York State.
—Doug Lyon, Lyon Capital Management LLC

Alcohol is still the “drug” of choice for young people. This move would make it more easily available. If we can save one life by keeping the status quo, it would be worth it. Neither grocery stores, wineries nor drugstores would be damaged by keeping things the way they are. Liquor stores would suffer. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
—J.P. Gleason, C.F.R.E. Principal E.D.A./ Gleason Fund Raising Consultants

Any POS location will help wineries distribute their products. Allowing sales in grocery stores would absolutely require increased vigilance to prevent sales to anyone under the legal age to purchase, but this will not be difficult. Allowing wine to be sold in grocery stores will make it much more convenient for the consumer. This is a good idea, in my opinion.
—Tom Meilutis

To make up for the lost revenues at liquor stores, will the state allow sales of beer at liquor stores?
—Kent Pierce

Something needs to be done to help liquor stores when they lose the wine sales. New York State liquor laws and the restrictions on liquor stores are outdated.
—M. Prinsen

Already the state is usurping its own laws by allowing supermarket owners to control independent liquor store ownership through family surrogates. The obvious next step is to extend the courtesy to all market owners, large and small, to at least help level the playing field in the marketplace. To compensate, the small-business liquor stores should be allowed to sell industry-related items, such as beer, chips, mixers and other drinks as well as appropriate and relevant supplies. New York State has been living in old-fashioned prohibition on that issue for at least a century. Maybe it’s time to join the 21st.
—Bruno Sniders, Webster

Allowing grocery stores and drug stores to sell wine would increase the competition for the liquor stores. This will result in many closures, loss of jobs and real estate. I would allow grocery and drugstores the right to sell NYS wines only! This would create a greater awareness for New York State wines and certainly give New York State wineries a boost.
—Antonino Barbagallo, Foto-AB inc.

What’s next? When I was in Chicago, I visited a Costco (similar to Sam’s Club or BJ’s). They were selling everything from boxed wine to 25-year-old scotch. Yes, I agree with grocery stores and drug stores selling wine, when the grapes have been grown in New York, and the wine has been made and bottled in our state. My understanding of this whole issue was initiated to boost the N.Y. economy, namely New York wineries. I truly appreciate Wegmans’ support of Paterson’s change, but the stakeholders who need to win in this situation are N.Y. wineries, small business owners who have toiled to build their liquor store businesses and have been and promoting N.Y. wineries, and in the long-term, our state for promoting small businesses in the process. The drive behind this should not include boosting the profits of big retail chains of grocery and drug stores selling everything from Napa Valley Pinot Noir to French Bordeaux, or assist the inept and untrustworthy government of this state to fill part of the budget gap from new licensing fees. If I want to start an honest business, but fear the state government will interfere with the rules of free market competition as they deem necessary to meet their fiscal needs, I’m starting my business in another state.
—B. Moser

Absolutely! It’s time Albany started listening to the consumers instead of the liquor store lobbyists!
—Rick Corey, OpticsProfessionals LLC

Allowing grocery store to sell wines, not only will severely hurt New York wineries, it will also kill the majority of independent liquor stores, including the one I own.
—Lorenzo Napolitano, Elmgrove Discount Wine & Spirits

It has always puzzled me the slant the RBJ has had on this issue. One would think a publication devoted to business would champion a cause to help small businesses, not take the side of big box stores that would impact the local businesses in a catastrophic manner. A position that the governor’s own commission had advised him to shelve. Join us and the local wineries in this fight to squash this regurgitated issue and join other business organizations that have come out against wine to be sold in Wal-Mart’s, Sam’s, grocery stores and convenient stores. The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) voted over 2 to 1 to come out against this bad idea. One member one vote showed the true pulse of a business organization devoted to help small business. The social impact of having 20,000 more outlets to sell wine has every police, firefighter and first response association adamantly opposed to this "budget fix." How did the RBJ come to take the position it has? It’s not too late to join us in this fight for small businesses in the Rochester area and across the state. Thousands of jobs hang in the balance and unfortunately many lives.
—Stuart Harris, Eastway Liquor, Webster

I’m a big believer in free commerce—it provides the best options for consumers. Artificially limiting what a grocery store can sell may force customers to go to liquor stores for their wine but it does not maximize the value we get as consumers. A good liquor store will survive as it offers additional value to their customers. NYS best supports its constituents by allowing free commerce. Both grocery stores and liquor stores can benefit by providing consumers more choice and flexibility—focusing on customer needs not what the state law allows or prohibits.
—Cheryl Nelan

I believe that this idea will result in a tradeoff with wine sales increasing at grocery stores while decreasing at liquor stores. Also I don’t believe large chains, such as Wegmans, could carry New York wines because the small wineries do not have enough capacity to meet their store’s large demands.
—Charles Kaplan

I am retired from the beverage alcohol business (39 years). This proposal is not a good idea. Small business is the backbone of our state and country; $90k is not going to end our high debt or taxes. Fewer politicians and revised out dated liquor laws are the answer.
—Carl F. Berg

I feel that considering that most of my sales being wine, and most of my inventory being wine, I would take a major hit if this law were to be passed. The small businessman is what made our country grow. The Big Box stores have done away with too many small businesses. You see too few independent hardware stores, shoe stores, book stores and record stores, now they want to take a chunk out of the wine and liquor industry. Keep our young people safe, the number of phony IDs we turn away will not be caught by the cashiers at the big box stores. It will increase underage drinking.
—Mary Guenther, Donohue’s Wines & Liquors

I believe the $90 million is smoke and mirrors promoted by the major grocery stores. And the stores will carry only the big sellers and destroy the small wineries. This will also drive many small wine shops out of business and in the long run may even decrease state tax revenue from wine and liquor sales.
—Craig Epperson, Rochester

I don’t see why adding outlets of the kind proposed would be detrimental to the existing population of stores. Have you visited an inner city liquor store lately? Jeepers Creepers, I’d get the Heebee Jeebees just thinking about going in one. If these are the outlets that would succumb to larger outlets, then so be it. Is this the "loss" that’s being cried about? The substantial, clean, well-lit and well-stocked outlets should not be afraid of Wegmans. Well, maybe they should, if Mr. Danny is as successful with this as he has been with almost everything else (except taking photo kiosks out of the stores. Bad move Danny), there will most certainly be a culling of outlets, maybe for the better. As far as keeping teens and other miscreants out of jail by keeping them legal, Wegmans would probably do as fine a job on wine and liquor as they do on beer. ‘nuf said.
—Rick Bradley

I have been to grocery stores in other states, where the only choice was to purchase wine there, as there were no other wine stores, only liquor. I was generally unimpressed with the selection, and less impressed with the expertise of anyone willing to help me with a wine selection. This condition does not exist in our New York State wine stores, at least in those high-quality stores, as we have in Rochester. Stocking wine only affords a level of expertise that is truly helpful to the uninitiated wine buyer, as well as seasoned wine-buying veterans. I feel that grocery stores will behave as they always do, offering premium shelf locations in exchange for cost considerations, not germane in the wine industry, particularly New York State. Moreover, the expertise of the wine store staff can steer a buyer to a New York State wine, commensurate with the taste of the purchaser, based on other selections the purchaser has made. This is crucial in helping New York State wineries get the word out on their products. The grocery store model only steers the potential buyer to the appropriately costed wine, displayed by the store owner.
—Hutch Hutchison, In T’Hutch Ltd.

Buying alcohol should not be made more convenient. Our underage kids should not have more avenues in which to purchase alcoholic beverages illegally. Opening up wine in grocery outlets would seriously hurt small business owners that have spent their lifetimes building their business.
—Cheryl L. Dianetti, Empire Merchants North

Wine is sold in almost every other state in the U.S. Let’s loosen up New York’s archaic laws.
—Carl Guth, CRG Associates

Selling wine in grocery stores would give short-term financial gains and the long -erm negative ramifications would have a much larger financial impact.
—Tracey Fanning

I’ve been to “super” Wegmans in other states. Their wine offerings are overwhelming in those beautiful stores. However, I am not in favor of it in New York. It would really hurt the many small stores—especially in our fragile economy. It might help small wineries, but overall I did just fine in finding any product I wanted at small stores. It is probably inevitable—just not now. When Trader Joe’s comes to NY—that may be the time—boy do they know how to “market!”
—Rod Mattingly

(c) 2010 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or e-mail rbj@rbj.net.

Majority favors wine sales at groceries and drugstores

The majority of respondents to this week’s RBJ Daily Report Snap Poll favors changing the state law that restricts wine sales to liquor stores and wineries. The poll results were very similar to those when the same questions were posed a year ago.

In his 2010-11 budget proposal, Gov. David Paterson calls for allowing groceries and drugstores to add wine sales, which he estimated would generate more than $90 million this year in licensing fees. Unlike a similar proposal a year ago, Paterson’s new plan would allow liquor stores to sell directly to restaurants and other retailers; put an ATM on premises; open multiple stores; and sell food and other complementary products.

By a margin of 62 percent to 38 percent, readers support changing the law.

Supporters of grocery store wine sales-among them Wegmans Food Markets Inc. and the New York Wine Industry Association-have argued that allowing grocery stores and drugstores to add wine sales would help to close the state’s budget gap, create jobs, boost New York wineries and provide greater convenience and variety for consumers.

Nearly 70 percent of respondents agree that changing the law to allow grocery stores and drugstores will help Finger Lakes wineries.

Opponents such as the New York State Liquor Store Association have argued that the change could force many liquor stores to close, drain state revenues because of lower distilled spirits sales and give teens greater access to alcohol, increasing the risk of underage drinking and fatal driving accidents.

This poll’s results are very similar to the outcome when the same questions were asked in an RBJ Snap Poll a year ago. By a margin of 64 percent to 36 percent, respondents to that poll favored granting grocers and drugstores permission to sell wine.

A year ago, 71 percent said changing the law would help Finger Lakes wineries, slightly more than the 69 percent in the current poll.

Roughly 955 readers participated in this week’s poll, which was conducted Feb. 8 and 9.

Do you favor allowing grocery and drug stores in New York to sell wine?
 Yes No
 62% 38%

In your view, would allowing New York grocery stores and drugstores to sell wine help or hurt small Finger Lakes wineries?
 Help Hurt
 69% 31%

COMMENTS:
I don’t think we should heavily consider whether small stores will close or Finger Lakes wineries will benefit or other short-term local concerns. The only question that matters is "What approach leads to a freer market?" There is no reason in a free market to restrict liquor sales to certain types of stores. I’m not fond of Paterson’s motivation; he just wants more revenue from licensing fees. But in the end, the result will be better availability, more competition and more freedom. Any other questions about the impact on our local businesses and markets are quite frankly not the government’s concern. Let the free market hash that out.
-Todd VanHouten

To help balance the situation, also allow liquor stores to sell beer, snacks, etc. Lift government restrictions on blue law commerce.
-Joe Denny, Fairport

Price and convenience are what retailers sell. So long as grocery stores sell wine, then wine and spirits retailers should be allowed to sell whatever their customers demand. It’s called competition, and it can work for everyone. Although the wine stores cannot compete on price in most cases, they surely can compete with superior service and high-margin selection.
-R. Tarantello, Tarantello & Associates
We all know where to get our wine right now, don’t we? Do we really need to cause scores of locally owned small liquor stores to suffer or go out of business just so we can pick up some vino with our milk and eggs? How much money does Wegmans need to make before it is enough?
-Dan Palmer, Rochester

It would be great for Wegmans, obviously, and consumers generally, but it would be devastating to the many small mom-and-pop liquor stores throughout the state. I don’t think we want that.
-David Lamb

I am a small winery, and what I see is there are many small, family-owned grocers who would love to carry small local wines to complement all the locally owned produce they sell in their stores-way more than the majority of liquor stores that are more concerned with selling Yellow Tail and other foreign-owned brands. All you need to do is look at the liquor store advertisements in the paper to see what they really want to sell.
-Scott Osborn, Fox Run Vineyards

The wineries are more for tours and ambience and tastings. … The stores selling it would help for exposure and an outlet for people who can’t make it out that far every weekend.
-David DeMallie

For more comments, go to rbjdaily.com.  To participate in the weekly RBJ Snap Poll, sign up for the Daily Report at staging.rbj.net/dailyreport.

2/12/10 (c) 2010 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or e-mail rbj@rbj.net.

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