The State of New York has had a tumultuous relationship with wine and liquor sellers over the years. 

A few years back, liquor stores (the only place you can buy wine and hard liquor in NY) were clamoring for the state to rescind the Depression-era “Blue Laws” and allow them to open their doors on Sundays.  They got their wish – sort of.  These days,  liquor stores are allowed to open on Sunday, provided that they close on another day of the week.  Essentially, they are legally banned from operating their business seven days a week.  What a crock.  One charming little remnant of Prohibition still remains – no alcohol sales before noon on Sundays.  From NYS Liquor Authority laws:

Sec. 105.14 – Provisions governing licensees to sell at retail for consumption off the premises:

(i) On Sunday before twelve o’clock post meridian and after nine o’clock post meridian.
(ii) On any day between midnight and eight o’clock antemeridian.
(iii) On the twenty-fifth day of December, known as Christmas Day.

Apparently, God does not wish New Yorkers to imbibe at times when they should be praying.  But I digress.

In addition, liquor/wine retailers in NYS are only allowed to have ONE license – meaning they are only allowed to own/operate ONE liquor business.  This state knows sure how to restrict commerce, doesn’t it???

In 2006, NYS AG Eliot Spitzer (aka “Client No. 9”) discovered that some liquor wholesalers had offered discounts and free merchandise to preferred bars, restaurants, retailers, and nightclubs. From 2002 to 2005, these establishments received more than $50 million in illegal swag including cash, vacations, cases of wine and spirits, iPods, golf clubs, and AMEX gift cards, according to Spitzer’s office.  So, the gov put a stop to that too.  Rightly so.

TODAY, the big to-do is about allowing grocery stores to sell wine.  Recently, large grocery chains in Upstate NY (such as Hannaford, Price Chopper, and Wegman’s) have begun media campaigns telling New Yorkers that “It’s Time for Wine” – meaning, it’s time to call your congressman and/or Governor Paterson and tell them you want to buy wine in your grocery store.  Obviously, liquor store retailers are absolutely up in arms over the prospect of losing sales to places like Wal-Mart SuperCenters and potentially going out of business altogether (that really does suck).

The NY Times did a great piece today about this dilemma , and offered some interesting perspectives.  As a food lover and amateur wine connoisseur, I like the idea of being able to purchase my food and wine pairings at the same location.  Food and wine are meant to be enjoyed together, and (on the surface) it makes sense for them to be sold together.

That being said, it sickens me that the Wal-Marts of the world have become nearly the only places where consumers can purchase ANYTHING anymore.  Our (dear) leaders keep referring to “Main Street,” which is an outdated, long-forgotten relic of a concept these days.  Mom-and-Pop businesses are closing left and right, unable to compete with the massive buying power and pricing clout that major chains wield over manufacturers and distributors.   And this market domination was happening long before our nation’s financial tsunami came aground last year.  Allowing grocery stores to sell wine would no doubt shut down even more small businesses in New York, putting more entrepreneurs out of work, and driving even more of our population to more business-friendly realms.  After all, the grocery stores would be allowed to sell wine at every one of their stores (Price Chopper alone has 71 stores in NY), while liquor stores would still only be allowed a single license.  How could they possibly compete?

Some folks are offering a compromise of sorts: grocery stores would only be allowed to sell wine from NY wineries, or perhaps bottles under a certain price point.  That would leave imported and other domestic wines from outside NY (plus hard liquor) as fair game for the liquor stores.  I don’t know.  NY wines get a (mostly) undeserved bad rap, and making them the “booby prize” in this contest of strength would only serve to further marginalize what the NY wineries are trying to accomplish.  Plus, offering cheaper wines to that kind of mass audience doesn’t help the wine industry as much as you’d think:  most wines under $7 or so are swill (Corbett Canyon comes to mind), and the more people buy it (’cause it’s cheap), the more they make, ultimately driving quality producers off the shelves and out of business.  A lot of bad wine is still just that – bad wine.

And, I didn’t even touch on Governor Paterson’s boneheaded proposal to TRIPLE the sales tax on liquor & wine sales in New York.  Ever heard the phrase “you can’t get blood from a stone”?

I must conclude, therefore, that I am NOT in favor of allowing wine sales in grocery stores.  As a matter of fact, I am in favor of loosening the restrictions of the NYS Liquor Authority even MORE – we should allow liquor stores to be open seven days a week, and allow business owners the right to own more than one store.  These ridiculously antiquated, Puritan-era restrictions are no good for business, and no good for New York.