Gov. David Paterson is leaving no stone unturned—or wine bottle uncorked—in his search for money to plug the state’s budget gap. As part of his budget proposal, he announced a plan to allow grocery stores to sell wine.
The plan would generate an estimated $100 million a year through licensing fees from establishments such as grocery stores, which already have a liquor license to sell beer, that are interested in peddling wine alongside cheese, for example.
Currently, food establishments can only sell beer alongside food and cigarettes, while liquor and wine stores are prohibited from selling the soft drinks and mixers often used with hard alcohol.
Opponents of the plan predict that wine and liquor businesses will close and jobs will be lost. Even the state’s Professional Fire Fighters Association have come out against the idea, arguing that teen drinking and driving will skyrocket due to wine being sold in grocery stores.
Nancy Maniscalco, owner of Nancy’s Wines at 313 Columbus Ave. and West 75th Street, is one wine retailer who opposes Paterson’s plan. She is worried the new competition will harm liquor stores and wine shops, even specialty wine stores such as hers.
“If you’re running a bunch of errands and fine wines is on your list, you may grab one instead of going to the wine shop that may be 25 feet away,” Maniscalco said.
For liquor and wine stores whose draw is a quick and cheap bottle of booze, grocery stores would likely knock off a portion of the customer base. Henry Kim, the owner of Roma Wine and Spirits on 737 Amsterdam Ave. and West 96th Street, fears grocery stores will sell the same wine that people buy at his shop.
“With grocery stores carrying all the general popular wine, we’ll lose business on those items,” Kim said. “They’re taking wine away from existing wine stores.”
Even with compromise legislation that would allow liquor stores to sell cigarettes and beer, or allow storeowners to carry more than one liquor license (and therefore operate more than one store in the city), Kim said such concessions are unrealistic in the city.
“I don’t have enough room for the beer,” Kim said. “That’s going to be a big problem.”
Though proprietors of West Side wine purveyors aren’t exactly celebrating the proposal, some don’t feel grocery stores pose a huge threat. Supermarkets stocking mass-produced wine will not offer the selection or personal service valued by true oenophiles, said George Bosler, owner of Candlelight Wines at 2315 Broadway and West 84th Street.
“You’re not going to get someone buying a $200 bottle of wine that you would at my store,” said Bosler, who has been in the wine industry since 1974. “One-stop shopping is long overdue.”
John Catsimatidis, president of Red Apple Group, which owns Gristedes supermarket, lauded the proposal as a win for wine growers, wine consumers and, of course, grocery stores. Wine shops, he predicted, will remain unscathed by the additional competition.
“The supermarkets are not going to be able to carry all the specialty wines anyway,” Catsimatidis said. “The only thing it’s a negative for is liquor stores.”
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