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Crowd at Young’s Hopeful Proposal to Sell Wine in Grocery Stores Fails

Underage Drinking Already a Problem, Why Make it Easier?

Gov. Paterson wants to sell wine in supermarkets. Both the Senate and Assembly have removed it from their budgets, but the governor kept it, claiming it will be a moneymaker.

The crowd at Young’s Fine Wines and Spirits on April 6 disagreed. Small business generates well over 90 percent of jobs and the governor’s proposal, they believe, will put many local liquor stores out of business. Young’s co-owner, Ed Wassmer, welcomed politicians, neighboring liquor store owners, locals, vineyard owners from out east—the list of concerned individuals on hand supporting him in the fight against the proposal was long—and each had his own reasons for opposing the sale of wine in grocery stores (WIGS).

Assemblywoman Michelle Schimel has maintained from the start that wine should not be sold in grocery stores and Wassmer praised Schimel as “an outstanding advocate well known in the halls of Albany.” Schimel smiled recalling how LI wine growers last year were pleased about having more venues to sell their wine, to save their farmlands and protect the winegrowers but, she said, she cautioned them to really think about the proposal.  It took a while, Schimel said, but they have come to understand that their wine would be on the shelf for a month, would not sell as well as cheaper offerings, would have limited shelf space and finally disappear. Schimel said she wished other issues were as clear-cut. Small business, she said, makes up 98 percent of the state’s private employers, and laws should protect them—not hurt them.

Wassmer explained “sku rationalization,” when sales volume is measured against a lot of different benchmarks and best selling items are continued while niche items, or a variety of wines, are not. Farm growers, he concurred, have since pulled away from supporting the bill.

No place in the world is as difficult to be in liquor trade than New York, claimed local storeowners. Wassmer said in New York State he is only allowed to own one liquor store. No matter how big Young’s becomes he cannot open another store. And, he can only sell wine and spirits. He sells two items. Just two. He is not complaining, he said, because it is a logic that works. Young’s has been thriving in Manhasset for 77 years.

If an underage drinker enters Young’s there is nothing else to buy except wine or liquor. That is not true of grocery stores or big box stores. Local liquor storeowners said they could have their licenses revoked for selling to minors while the same would not hold for the bigger chains.

Lisbeth Shibley, executive director of Manhasset Coalition Against Substance Abuse (CASA), joked that, “Ed is a kind of unusual partner,” adding, “no underage kid can buy liquor at Young’s.” She applauded Wassmer for working very hard on the issue and noted CASA has supported him for over a year, since the issue first appeared.  “Ed,” she said, “is one of the most reliable shop owners insofar as protecting teens from underage drinking.” Kathy Samuels, Manhasset CASA project director announced that Wassmer would be a supporter of their upcoming  “Parents Who Host Lose the Most” campaign.

Christopher Murray, president Nassau Council Chambers of Commerce-there are about 42 of them-said last year when this first came up he expressed outrage. Liquor stores are an integral part of the communities, he said, and this proposal is just “one more nail in the coffin of local downtowns.”  He opined it is just an effort to fill a budget gap.

It was explained that each state sets up its own laws on how liquor is distributed, and that while New York has, in some cases, almost four times more citizens that states that allow the sale of wine in grocery stores, New York has less driving fatalities.

Self-checkout is getting more common, there are blogs explaining how teens can game the system. Councilwoman Maria Christina Poons was concerned with “who will be able to monitor the sale to underage shoppers? Cashiers are teens in the summer and that puts great pressure on them.”

Government should not raise money by strangling owners, said local owners. Don’t they know if we make more money we pay more taxes?

The government should be promoting small business rather than hurting them, they said, and claimed studies illustrate that allowing the sale of wine in supermarkets would have unintended consequences. Over 1,000 stores would close in one year and 4,500 New Yorkers would lose their jobs. Plus, no employment would be increased and no jobs created by the proposal.

Charles Massoud of Paumanok Vineyards commented, “As a wine producer I’d like to see wine sold in barbershops. But if barbershops sold toothpaste—does that mean people use more toothpaste? Those sales are finite and I think that is true of wine too. Store owners have invested their life and treasure to run a difficult business and one that is highly regulated and restricted. Now the state wants to give it away to grocery stores. What if the state comes back and does something nasty to us? The state can be very blind and unfair. I was never behind it myself. I believe we should work with the trade. Find a solution that is good for the consumer, the trade and the state.”

Ed Wassmer said in closing that since 1933, since the repeal of Prohibition, stores have sold liquor and wine and several of those storeowners were present in opposition to Governor Paterson’s proposal to extend the sale of wine to grocery stores. He thanked the Senate and Assembly for excluding the sale of wine in grocery stores from their budget proposals.