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Still Debated

Liquor store owners fighting wine in grocery stores

May 29, 2011
By MIKE ZUMMO , The Leader Herald

When the idea was floated by then-Gov. David Paterson two years ago, there was a clear dividing line on the issue of selling wine in grocery stores.

Liquor stores were against, and the grocery stores were all for the idea.

The proposal died, but now it's back before legislators with changes aimed at appeasing liquor store owners.

Article Photos

Wayne Brooks, owner of M & S Liquor of Gloversville, places a bottle of Almaden White Zinfandel wine into a bag at the counter at the store on Wednesday.

The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan

"I know that they're not going to give up until they get it," said Wayne Brooks, owner of M&S Liquors in Gloversville. "The State Liquor Authority has offered liquor and wine stores the ability to sell beer and they don't want to do that."

Jeff Chamberlaine, co-owner of Spirits of the Adirondacks in Johnstown with his wife, Abbie, also remains against the idea.

"It would be detrimental to every liquor store in the state of New York," he said.

Chamberlaine said most of his profits come from wine sales.

"The percentage of mark-up is greater on wine than it is on liquor," he said. "Although the liquor is more expensive, we make less profit on liquor than on wine."

State Sen. Tom O'Mara and Assemblyman Joe Morelle are leading a group of bipartisan legislators who have introduced legislation that will, if passed, allow wine to be sold in grocery stores throughout the state.

According to a news release from New Yorkers for Economic Growth and Open Markets, the legislation could create about 6,000 new jobs and raise hundreds of millions of dollars through franchise fees for grocery stores.

"This bill is about jobs,' Heather Bricetti, acting president and chief executive officer of the Business Council of New York State, said in a news release.

Also, wineries and grape growers pointed to the almost 1,500 new jobs the proposal would bring.

"Our struggling communities and the sustainability and growth of the New York wine industry is at risk," said Scott Osborn, president of the New York Wine Industry Association. "This proposal is straight out of Economics 101. It's a win-win for our communities and our industry."

However, Brooks and Chamberlaine said the measure, if it is passed this year, would be costly for not only locally owned liquor stores, but for wine that is produced in New York.

"They are going to pick the most popular national name brands and that's what they're going to put in the grocery store," Chamberlaine said.

Brooks said about 80 percent of his customers would still come to M&S for wine, but there are some people who come to his store after they've been to the grocery store to buy box wine.

"Maybe I would lose those, and I don't believe for one minute they're going to check IDs as stringently as liquor stores around here do," Brooks said.

He also said grocery stores can't match the expertise of liquor store owners.

"You can come into this store, get a good recommendation and talk to someone who knows what they're talking about," Brooks said. "You're not going to get that from an 18-year-old kid who works in a supermarket."

According to a study by Archstone Consulting, 60 percent of New Yorkers support the proposal. Thirty-five other states already allow wine to be sold in grocery stores and existing liquor stores, will be able to capitalize on new revenue streams, which would include gift baskets, wine and complements such as crackers and mixers, and automatic teller machines, which currently are prohibited by law. Changes to the bill also would allow liquor store owners to have multiple locations and sell to restaurants and bars.

"I have no interest in any of that," Chamberlaine said. "We're content to focus on the products that we have."

However, the Last Store on Main Street Coalition, a group representing liquor stores, wineries, wholesalers, distributors and unions that oppose putting wine in grocery stores, points out that no new states have put wine in the liquor stores for about 30 years.

Mona Golub, a spokeswoman for Price Chopper, could not be reached for comment.

"Grocery stores would buy the most they could with the least mark-up," Chamberlaine said. "There's no way we would be able to compete evenly with them."

Mike Zummo is the business editor. He can be reached at



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