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President E. Christopher Murray addresses the gathering.

On Tuesday, March 10 Richard and Marilyn Howland hosted a gathering of the Nassau County Chamber of Commerce at their store, Main Street Wines and Spirits on Main Street. The meeting consisted of a number of local and Nassau County merchants who, with the help of the Nassau Counties of Chambers of Commerce, are opposed to Governor Paterson's budget proposal, which would allow the sale of wine in grocery stores, supermarkets, mini marts, gas stations, delis and bodegas. The Nassau County Council Chambers of Commerce and their members support existing laws allowing the sale of wine only in liquor stores.

The meeting was chaired by E. Christopher Murray, president of the Nassau Council Chambers of Commerce, who said "Paterson's proposal will put local wine and liquor retailers at a competitive disadvantage." A number of other points concerning the weaknesses of Paterson's proposed legislation were mentioned including the closing of many businesses and business owners laying off employees and reducing staff. The 50 local chambers of commerce in Nassau County represent more than 6,000 businesses united in their opposition.

In outlining the chamber's argument, Murray said that small liquor dealers are part of the main streets in many communities in Nassau County and that wine represents the overwhelming majority of their sales. When questioned about the position of local and state elected officials position on the legislation, Murray said they looked favorably on keeping the law as written, although no legislators have taken a formal position on things to date. Mr. Rich Azzopardi, director of communications for Senator Craig Johnson, said that Johnson has reservations about the measure, is examining its benefits, impact upon the community and continues to talk all parties affected by the legislation.

On a related matter, Murray discussed the chamber's court challenge to increased business taxes, which began several years ago. The Chamber of Commerce received a favorable ruling in the initial court challenge and Nassau County has appealed. Murray said that the court appeal should be held shortly and a decision is expected soon.

Mr. Jeff Saunders, president of the Retail Alliance Association of Nassau, said that the majority of states prohibit the sale of wines in supermarkets, which has been a consistent position the states have taken since the end of Prohibition.

Richard Howland, owner of Main Street Wine and Spirits in Port and a member of the PW Chamber of Commerce, said "I can't imagine how our business can survive if this proposal were to be enacted." He amplified his concern for the future of his business saying, "75 percent of my business entails the sale of wines. With the decline in sales, many other similar businesses would be affected and Port would see an even greater increase in the number of vacant stores."

One of the major complaints concerning the proposed legislation cautions consumers that, should wine be sold in grocery stores, teenagers will have greater access to the illegal purchase of alcohol, which would result in a heightened risk of underage drinking and fatal drunk driving accidents, the leading cause of death for young adults from the teenage years to mid-20s.

Marilyn Howland, of Main Street Wine and Spirits, spoke with encouragement on the chamber's efforts, saying that people are listening to their plight and emphasized the community's need to support business in their downtown areas. She spoke with praise of the enhanced scrutiny of youngsters attempting to purchase alcohol in downtown, neighborhood stores. She cautioned that should wine be sold in grocery stores and supermarkets, that the teenager stocking the shelves could be the same person behind the cash register when another youth attempts to purchase an alcoholic beverage.


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