Uncorking the controversy of wine in grocery stores

At the first in a series of Town Hall-style meetings Assemblyman Will Barclay has planned throughout the 124th District, school budget and general economic concerns were among the top priorities for attendees, but one issue was revisited more often than others: wine in grocery stores.

Of the group of about 15 people who attended the meeting, several were representing local liquor stores as owners or employees, and none of them were in favor of Gov. David A. Paterson's proposal to allow grocery, convenience and drug stores to begin selling wine.

Barclay said he was not surprised to hear from storeowners at the meeting; he had been notified earlier that several business owners would be present.

"They are very organized," Barclay said. During the meeting, Barclay intimated he had the impression grocers had assumed the move was a done deal, but didn't count on how united liquor storeowners would become against the proposition.

He added that he felt Paterson had probably made the proposition because of the revenue potential - estimated at more than $100 million to be gained by the state in the first two years if enacted - and had not realized, as Barclay hadn't at first, the impact it could have on liquor store business.

The Last Store on Main Street coalition is the manifestation of small business advocates and wine sellers hunkering down to take on the often regional or national grocery, convenience and drug store chains.

Bad for business

"The balance will be destroyed," Ray Rudolph stated. Rudolph owns Plaza Liquor Store in Camillus.

That fragile balance exists for liquor proprietors between wine and liquor, and the ratio of tax and profit each product presents. Grocery stores want to sell wine, but not liquor, because of the low state-imposed tax and the high markup, Rudolph said. Selling hard liquor imposes a high excise tax in New York State and the profit margin is negligible.

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