Wine store owners protest bill to sell in grocery stores

February 24, 2010 2:50:23 PM PST
The wine war is heating up again, with the latest poll showing a majority of New Yorkers support selling wine in supermarkets and liquor store owners renewing efforts to pressure the Legislature into dropping the idea.Governor David Paterson says allowing grocery stores to sell wine could help fill the state's massive budget gap.

But on Wednesday, local wine store owners who are against a plan protested in Albany. So why are they against it?

At Grapes and Grains in Baldwin, store manager Bill Dunton prides himself on four decades of wine knowledge that he shares with his customers. But these days, he fears it may not be enough.

"I'm worried about the loss of my livelihood," he said.

Hundreds of Empire State wine store owners rallied at the state capitol, fighting Paterson's proposal to open up wine sales to supermarkets like Long Island-based King Kullen. It is a move Dunton fears could drive shops like his right out of business.

"Statistically, they're suggesting that maybe half of the licensees would go out of business," he said.

The proposal is part of the governor's 2010 budget, a plan he says will help heal the ailing state economy by netting $300 million in franchising fees supermarkets would pay the first year and $35-$50 million in extra tax revenue each year after that.

"The bottom line is that 35 other states are able to do this," a grocery store lobbyist said. "In those states, liquor stores and grocery stores coexist, and they're both profitable."

But on the South Shore, few customers seemed to like the idea. Some said they feared for the survival of the small stores, while others doubted grocery stores would carry the quality of wines the smaller stores do.

A Siena College poll released this week says 58 percent of New Yorkers would support wine sales in grocery stores. The poll surveyed 805 registered voters by phone from last Sunday through Friday. It has a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points.

The headache for liquor store owners could start as early as April 1, when the governor's budget is expected to pass. If this proposal passes with it, supermarkets like King Kullen could be selling wine and liquor in time for the holidays.