Wine in New York food stores – an encore!

dogatm Have you ever been in a New York wine store and thought there was something missing? Maybe gourmet cheese? Gift bags? Cigars? No, no–an ATM!

Well, if you’ve ever thought that then you will like Governor Paterson’s latest proposal to allow wine sales in food stores. He tried it last year but the measure was poorly thought out since it just focused on the grocery stores selling wine and not what would happen to current wine and spirits stores. Ultimately, it met resistance, and was dropped.

But it has been re-animated this budgetary year and this time the governor is trying to mollify the opposition by allowing wine stores to also sell “non-alcoholic beverages, food products, newspapers, cigars, gift packaging, glassware and storage items for wine and spirits.” (Note: no beer.) Licensees could also have more than one store, buy with other shops in a consortium, sell wine to restaurants and bars, have 60 days to pay for suppliers wine instead of 30 and, yes, have ATMs!

Such concessions constitute an admission that the proposed reform will hurt the business of existing wine stores. Indeed, the group opposing the reform, The Last Store on Main Street, claims it will cause the closing of almost 40 percent of New York State’s 2,400 wine stores. The group also claims that liberalizing wine retail laws would lead to an increase in underage drinking. It’s too bad they played the underage card since it always seems to be stooping to fear-mongering. Is there more underage drinking in the 35 states that do allow wine purchases at grocery stores? I doubt it.

While the New York laws are in many ways absurd, the best pro-consumer argument in support of them is that the there are so many great wine shops (particularly in and around the City). The protectionist laws have contributed to the building of an incredible wine culture. Retailer Jeff Zacharia commented that he thinks the number of fine wines available in the NY market would shrink if the proposal passes. Unfortunately, he did not elaborate on this point.

Will that culture remain without the laws? Probably, almost entirely; there are great wine cultures in San Francisco and Chicago to name a couple of cities where supermarkets sell wine. But it will be less profitable for good wine merchants as some wine consumers opt for the convenience of throwing a wine in their grocery cart, hence the governor’s concession to allow sell food and knickknacks. (For the boring shops trading on location–last year we called these the wine & liqu–they will have to rely on spirits sales and ATMs. Or step up their service or selection.)

New York budget politics are uncertain but this proposal seems better designed for passage than last year. But if it is going to happen, why not sweep away the remaining restrictions and allow wine stores to sell beer, as grocery stores will be able to sell both, and allow them to open at 9 AM on Sunday. Stay tuned for the log-rolling between now and April 1.

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39 Responses to “Wine in New York food stores – an encore!”


  1. I said it last year and I will say it again…NY wine stores are wasting valuable time and money keeping protectionist and prohibitionist laws in place.

    There is not one good reason that wine should not be allowed in supermarkets.

    We should be moving forward, not backwards.

    Daniel Posner
    http://www.grapesthewineco.com
    Consumer Advocate


  2. It’s crazy that we continue to live with government telling us where we can and can not by things in the name of protecting a merchant’s profits.

    Wine stores should be able to sell beer, cheese, cigars, and freaking fishing tackle if they like, and supermarkets should be able to sell wine.

    Consumers are smart, the clear value in the local boutique wine shop is not only the mire interesting selection of wine, but the expertise of the merchant.

    Let’s have open competition; trust me, the wine drinker and wine retailer win.

    (I’m passionate about this. I live in Baltimore, Maryland, where not only can I not buy wine in a grocery store, but I can’t have wine shipped to my house. I can have olive oil shipped to my house, not that I would ever do that.)


  3. For wine lovers in NY it is also worth noting that this budget proposal is more than just wine stores versus food stores, it also is of huge importance to the NY wine industry. With explosive growth both in number and quality in the past two decades, wineries in the state are hitting a wall for how many outlets they have to sell to in their own state, where their distribution, shipping, and tax costs are lowest and give them a competitive advantage. This was never a bottle neck to California, Washington, or Oregon, but it is preventing the investment and attention that could and should be paid to the wines our climate can produce.

    From what I understand, it is also worth nothing that liquor stores have never asked to sell beer nor do they want the hassle of it. The Governor’s budget proposal was an honest effort to compromise with a group that refuses to talk, despite having asked for the things he is giving them for the past twenty years. I’m all for small stores, but I have no doubt that the liquor stores that specialize in selection, service, and quality will be more than fine – and I can’t wait for that!


  4. This decision is really about the rest of NY State. NYC is fully stocked with plenty wine buying options.

    Nationally, mainstream grocery stores typically have a mediocre wine selection as they are centrally bought and stocked with the usual suspects of national brands and French negocients.

    NY State is blessed with Wegman’s which will have a good, not great, selection that is well merchandised as witnessed at their Princeton, NJ unit. However, they, like other grocery chains won’t be able to provide adequate service. The wine manager will likely be nothing more than an inventory clerk with no say in the product line and probably not invited to trade tastings. Personally, I wouldn’t want that job.

    At the moment, there are no Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods outside of NYC metro. There are 48 Wegman’s, all in Central or Western part of NY State.

    Grocery chains usually have a limited jug, pop wine and bottom of the barrel liquor selections which are the bread and butter of “mom and pops”. Who goes to a grocery store to get a pint of cheap vodka? In the twenty years I lived in California, I never noticed a lack of small, local liquor stores. They thrive.

    The big benefit and challenge will be for the specialty wine store or wannabe. Here is their chance to create a viable store of interesting wines, cool accessories, specialty foods and exceptional service. Are they up to it?


  5. More on America’s antiquated system of wine distribution – the view from a German

    http://schiller-wine.blogspot.com/2010/01/americas-antiquated-system-of-wine.html


  6. New York is lucky. It’s better than the Pennsylvania’s new wine koisk system. You’ll be allowed to buy wine from vending machines at grocery stores in PA. But, you’ll need to swipe your Driver’s license, stand in front of a camera so an off-site person can match your ID with your picture, and then you’ll have to blow into a built-in breathalyzer and confirm you are not drunk.


  7. Bravo to the Gov! This new proposal “The Wine and Liquor Store Revitalization Act” is long overdue, and has everything the NYS wine grape growers and liquor stores have been asking for for 30 years. NOW is the time to FREE THE WINE!
    Savvy liquor store owner will grow and thrive, and we’ll be able to save our 6th generation family farm. If you’re a New Yorker, call your legislators and say YES to wine. Cheers!


  8. Really? You think it’s the rest of NYS? I’ve always thought it was you guys! That’s kind of funny.
    Every city has at least 1 major store- Premier in Buffalo, Century in Rochester, Pascale’s in Syracuse, Northside in Ithaca- I don’t venture further East than that, but I’m sure like Albany and Plattsburg and Long Island have similar stores.

    As far as grocery stores helping NYS wineries- I’ll believe that when I see it. Maybe Wegman’s- they’re pretty good about things like that. But even then, it’ll help wineries that already do well, like Wagner, or Swedish Hill. As far as someplace like Imagine Moore or Arrowhead, which also have terrific wines, these still need to be, and are, hand-sold.

    The bigger issue is the money The Governor doesn’t really care where you shop- he just needs the licensing fees. Which helps to balance the ailing budget. Once. What happens next year when we need more money?


  9. Kim

    Are you ITB?

    Unless you are in retail.wholesale, I cannot see why you would be against something like this.

    Competition benefits the consumer, in every industry.

    How the wine industry (which I have been a part of for nearly 10 years) can be so anti consumer is mindboggling to me.

    NYS wine sales suck. Last year, laststoreonmainstreet made a push to get wineries here to support their venture by claiming that their stores would buy more NYS wines…that has been a failure.


  10. I am in the business- and I field an awful lot of calls from people in California, Texas and New Jersey looking for things we sell that they can’t find anywhere. If their stores were doing so well, why aren’t they shopping there? At least a third of our customers are from Canada or Pennsylvania. Whenever we go on trips with the Wine & Spirits Guild, the member stores from states that have to compete with Costco and Total Wine are always the least happy.
    I don’t work in the kind of store that would be threatened by the grocery stores- we have a huge following and a great reputation for service. But as a whole, I think sweeping changes are never good- the other states that sell wine in grocery stores have done so for several decades and the stores around them have evolved accordingly. In addition, since I live in a pretty tight-knit community, I feel pretty strongly about shopping locally and supporting small businesses- you are free to shop where you choose, but in the long-run I just don’t see how it will be better for anyone to have money funnelled out-of-state to Walmart and Costco.
    It’s not just about wine either- I haven’t seen too many hardware stores since they opened Home Depot- and I can never find someone to help me there. I had a really difficult time finding a local pharmacist as well- pretty sure I go to the last one in the city. I believe the liquor stores are more community oriented because they are independent and local, and appreciate customers better because they have to- whenever there are more than 2 people in a line, a new register opens- that sure doesn’t happen at Tops.
    I really only shop at my store, so maybe others aren’t as supportive as we are, but we have 2 full walls of NYS wines, which all receive a fair amount of attention from the staff.
    I love my job, and most of our customers, and I don’t think it will affect me personally, but looking at the bigger picture I just don’t think it’s a good idea.


  11. Kim

    You have decided to shop in the local pharmacy. You have decided that you would prefer a local hardware store.

    You as the consumer.

    Now, you, on the other side, are attempting to block the consumer from deciding.

    How ironic.

    How much did your store contribute to laststoreonmainstreet last year?

    I do not mean to pick on you, but you came here, and did not disclose who you were, your prerogative. I am glad that you did say you worked ITB, because no consumer would ever say what you have just said.

    Why not just let the consumer decide where they want to shop?

    What if the states denied Home Depot from opening. What if supermarkets were not allowed to be expand?

    What if you were not allowed to sell to all of those customers calling you from outside of New York State? I assume that when they call you, you tell them to go to their local store and support that shopkeeper?


  12. Well, I didn’t disclose where I work, since I don’t own the store, and my opinion is my own, not as a representative of the store.
    I think the consumer is often short-sighted- how many small towns out there are suffering from the Wal-mart effect because they thought it was a good idea at the time and then years later came to regret it because the competition was gone?
    You seem to assume that everyone agrees with you that capitalism and the free market are the best system, and they don’t. I really don’t know how much we gave to lastmainstreetstore (although I suspect it was probably a lot), but it was definiely not nearly as much as Wegman’s spent- and they still lost. Lots of people believe in supporting small businesses, but often cost is the only or most important factor in a lot of people’s decision making, which doesn’t give you a whole lot of choice.
    You can pick on me if you want, because my opinion is based on my own experiences, just as your opinion is on your own. I’m not trying to tell you how to think, just letting you know what I think.


  13. Last I checked, our country believed that capitalism and a free market were the best systems, economically. Are you telling all of us that that is no longer the case?


  14. I disagree- this country believes that free market is often the best system, not always. Plenty of laws exist restricting the free market- for example, environmental regulations, minimum wage requirements, monopoly laws. There are plenty of arguements on both sides of each issue and that’s why laws change all the time.
    And that’s why each state has the right to create their own laws and regulations. It’s up to the people to decide what they want. And that’s why the opinions of those who live in other states are irrelevant in this matter.
    If that’s really what the people of NY want, then that’s what will happen. It’s still doesn’t change the fact that it’s not a proper way to balance the budget.


  15. And you think that the people of the state of NY do not want wine in supermarkets?


  16. Didn’t you just say previously…

    “I think the consumer is often short-sighted”

    So, should the short sighted consumer decide?

    Or the paid off politician?


  17. Well thousands of people signed the petition against the proposal last time. I don’t think people are unhappy with our system in general. Or a least not as many as you seem to think.

    You’re right, though. I did contradict myself. I’m sure I meant what I said at the time, but of course I’ve been known to be wrong! But it still sounds to me as if you feel everyone should think and feel the way you do. Sometimes protectionist policies exist for a reason. And sometimes they’re wrong and should be changed.

    I’m not sure that I said Paterson was paid off though. I’d like to hope that he represents the people fairly. But this proposal only generates income that one time. We’ll still need money next year.

    I think a lot of people are apathetic to any issue that doesn’t affect them directly. And those are the short-sighted consumers who don’t realize or care what happens until it happens to them. As far as those who actually do care, it seems to me that most of those people would probably not be doing most of their wine shopping in a grocery store anyway.


  18. Have to agree with Kim here. Danial’s argument is irrational. How is it free market when you only allow one group to sell whatever they want? And comparing the two lobby groups is a joke… big biz vs. a couple of Mom & Pop stores. Its like comparing a couple of local natural gas providers to Exxon.
    But I have to agree a Wegmans wine isle would be nice


  19. BB,

    When did I ever say that I am allowing one grop to sell whatever they want?

    I suggest you read my writings on this subject last year and the current proposal.

    It is more than a fair tradeoff, if you ask me.

    As for big biz vs mom n pop, mom n pop enlisted the help of big brother (the wholesalers) on this one…you know, the group that has greased political pockets for $66 million over the last decade…yeah, that mom n pop.


  20. Daniel,
    As you may be aware, most New York winery owners and employees are against this proposal. They feel that supermarkets will ignore the local product in favor of large, advertised brands. These wineries and their employees pay taxes and buy from local suppliers. A quick search of your website showed no New York Wines!!! It showed a lot of out of state wines at high prices. How does that make you a “consumer advocate”?


  21. Drink Riesling,

    Fascinating name, by the way. Your parents love you.

    We have Herman Wiemer wines currently, from the Finger Lakes Region.

    We buy what we consider to be good value.

    I find most NY wines overpriced. The Finger Lakes Whites represent good value so we carry 1-2 at a time. No need for more.

    Winery owners are now against this proposal after laststoreonmainstreet bullied them last year by threatening to pull NYS wines off of the shelves. Let me know if you need links to those news stories.

    As for supermarkets carrying “large, advertised” brands…Check out the stores that Kim recommends, “Premier in Buffalo, Century in Rochester, Pascale’s in Syracuse, Northside in Ithaca” and let me know if they have any “large advertised brands.”

    If you come to my store, we do not carry “large advertised brands,” nor do we carry bad value wine.

    We like to give our customers good wines that represent good dollar value. If that wine is from Bordeaux…great, from Napa…great…from NY…awesome. Unfortunately, NY seems to lag in the QPR category.


  22. Exactly my point. You do not carry any of the “large advertised brands” the supermarkets desire. This does not make you a “consumer advocate”, it means this proposal works for 1 wine store that does not support NY wine.


  23. So, all supermarkets will carry the same brands? Are you the buyer for every supermarket in NY?

    Why support prohibitionist laws?

    Oh yeah, because you can.

    Why not let the consumer decide where to buy their wines?

    What are you afraid of?

    Let me know if you need the new stories about the threats to NYS wineries. But, for all I know, you could have been making those threats.


  24. Are you afraid that more NYS wine buyers will suddenly buy more Kendall Jackson Chardonnay and less Lenz Merlot because wine is in supermarkets?

    Is that the crux of your argument?


  25. No argument at all, just pointing out the obvious. Enjoy your day & keep “advocating” ;)


  26. Thanks for pointing out the obvious and at the same time, answering none of the pertinent questions.

    At the end of the day, where to buy wine, orange juice, vitamins, paint brushes, tooth brushes, gasoline, chinese food, etc etc ought to be the choice of the consumer, not the choice of an old time lobbying organization that has yet to adjust to the 21st century.


  27. This is again a push from grocery stores who think they could increase their margins slightly. Full disclosure – like Kim, I am also in the wine business, and I represent only myself and not my employer.

    The truth is, there is open competition and prices are such that there are no monopolistic pricing schemes in place – if a wine shop in New York charges too much, another shop can easily undersell them. Wine-Searcher and the internet make this possible every day. And, of course, if the competition was so restricted and choked off in New York as some say it is, then why are there tens of thousands of calls from residents of other states to buy wine from New York retailers? Surely if there were above- market prices and unfair competition, this would not be happening. The amount of consumer dissatisfaction is grossly overstated.

    The bottom line is that small businesses are crucial to our economy, and I, like many, are sick of bix box stores. Buy everything in the same place? Who cares. Give me someone who’s passionate about their specialty any day.

    Theoretically, there is supposed to be an open market where consumers choose between the small specialty shop and the “big choice” chain, but that choice oddly disappears when the former is forced out and one can hardly boycott the last supplier in town.

    This is the time to start fighting back and putting more choice back in the hands of customers. The inability to buy wine at the grocery store with one’s orange juice is not a restrictive market or an assault at capitalism -just look at states like Pennsylvania if you really want a restrictive liquor sales system. In fact, our current system arguably brings more competition and more choice than other systems, which are of course all of benefit to the consumer. Can you buy wine and gasoline at the same place? No, but does anybody actually want that? Hardly seems like the crisis of the moment. Small businesses surviving is an actual issue, not some made-up triviality.

    I also can’t believe New York State wines doing better lingering on a shelf next to $9 wines from Chile, Australia, Portugal, and other hot climates that are closer to many American palates. Better to keep striving for better wine and getting into the hands of supportive wine retailers that will hand sell it to the public. You’d have to create many more convoluted and restrictive laws than we have now to get consumers to buy significantly more New York wines, I should think.

    If a lobby wants to argue in favor of my position, fine, their finances don’t refute the correctness of their position.


  28. Jonathan,

    Well said. Great commentary. Truly. But let’s get some facts straight…The Governor, last year, attempted to put wine in supermarkets. It was not a well thought out plan. Retailers/Wholesalers flooded the politicians with money to make it go away. Unwilling to negotiate. The supermarkets then flooded airwaves with money right back. But, laststoreonmainstreet existed well in advance of Wegman’s or others spending money on their campaign.

    One year later, wine stores still refuse to negotiate. They want all or nothing. At some point in the future, these wine stores will lose the battle. 35 states allow wine in supermarkets. Have you visited these 35 states? In most markets, many small, boutiquey wine stores THRIVE. GO out to California, the market most similar to NY, and show me how allowing wine in supermarkets has destroyed the market for wine shops.

    You cannot. The truth is that while you want specialty shops everywhere, most people do not. Who is the number 1 wine retailer in the country? Costco. Why? Well, the real question we need to ask is why not? Is costco doing a disservice by offering a good selection of wines at good prices? Heck, aren’t they the top buyer of classified growth Bordeaux in the US for the past 5 years?

    Imagine if Costco started carrying NYS wines up in the FLX, and other upstate regions.

    To limit competition by not allowing “$9 wines from Chile, Australia, Portugal, and other hot climates that are closer to many American palates” next to New York State wines is limiting capitalism, is it not?

    At the end of the day, this is not about saving the mom n pop wine stores (the specialty stores, as you say), this is about saving the BIG liquor stores (Premier, Viscount, BevMax, etc.) The ones with a lot of square feet dedicated to the very brands that you despise. Those “big box” stores will lose out on that Woodbridge magnum business that they have come to rely on.

    And, truthfully, if a small specialty wine store is reliant upon that business, then they are not really a small specialty wine store, are they?

    And let’s not bring Pennsylvania into the equation. Two wrongs do not make a right.


  29. “To limit competition by not allowing “$9 wines from Chile, Australia, Portugal, and other hot climates that are closer to many American palates” next to New York State wines is limiting capitalism, is it not?”

    Not sure what you meant here, that already is the case in a lot of stores, speciality or otherwise – New York State wines right next to $9 wines from Chile, Australia, Portugal, etc. The difference is that in a small store, someone can hand sell a New York State wine. By themselves, most people will choose something other than New York State wine. It’s just a fact.

    There is no question that there are other states with healthy systems. The point is that there is an amazing and unique system in place here in NYC that would be threatened. Ironically, the tenets of capitalism are what make it so unique and amazing – there is a lot of competition, which makes for an astounding number of choices for the consumer. It’s a case of throwing the baby out with the bath water. I’m sure that there is a plan that can address these issues in a better fashion than what’s on the table now.

    Once again, there is a big difference between NYC and upstate. It is much more reasonable to argue that the system in place for 35 other states would be just as appropriate for upstate New York. However, NYC throws a wrench into the mix, and that can’t be ignored when 70% of the state’s population is in the metro area – though the real argument is not that NYC has weight to throw around, it’s that there is a market in place here that should actually be celebrated instead of being told to fall in line with what works for other states that bear little resemblance to the market and facts of life in the Big Apple.


  30. I have an idea! If Gov. Paterson is so hell-bent on raising the much needed funds for the decades of over spending, then sure, why don’t we just let grocery stores sell ONLY NYS wines! What a concept! The state gets their revenue from licensing fees, and the wine producers in our state get exactly what they want!


  31. I’d be reluctant to ever buy wine at a grocery store (unless it was a last minute thing) but I’d definitely buy gourmet cheese in a wine store! Think of the potential!!

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/04/opinion/04thur4.html


  32. Sarah,

    Good read, thanks for sharing!

    600 towns in upstate with no liquor stores.

    Wow, who knew? I am sure that they have grocery stores that would love to sell their patrons some wine!


  33. http://www.drvino.com/2010/02/12/wine-shops-states-supermarket-sales/


  34. Well, a fellow retailer just called me, in a threatening manner, telling me how stupid I was for wanting to move forward and advance NYS liquor laws past 1933.


  35. [...] by RSS, or daily email. Thanks for visiting!New York legislators are considering a shift to allow wine to be sold in supermarkets–and wine stores to sell gourmet cheese, cigars, beer and even have ATMs. To find out how [...]


  36. Sherry Lehmann, one of NY’s top retailers, speaks out…
    http://www.crainsnewyork.com/article/20100322/SMALLBIZ/100329978


  37. [...] or daily email. Thanks for visiting!Key players in Albany are seeking to break the impasse over wine retailing reform in New York State according to one retailer who was [...]


  38. [...] status quo The Albany Times-Union comes out in favor of wine in grocery stores (the delightful acronym, WIGS) in New [...]


  39. As a wine lover, I enjoy this blog, but cannot say I have ever delved too deeply into what is clearly a very heated and philosophical debate over whether or not wine should be available in supermarkets. From the outside looking in, I can easily see both sides of argument.

    I for one, am a huge supporter of the local wine store, and local economy in general. If there is a comparable product that is not double the price at a local merchant, I’ll choose to buy locally every time.

    As such, my husband and I regularly shop at the local wine stores in Saratoga County and very much enjoy getting to know the staff who then in turns can recommend wines they know will match or expand our tastes. My husband however, also buys wine online when he find something that sounds fantastic. He’s an equal opportunity purchaser.

    As a couple, we also enjoy beer, a product readily available at the supermarket. We hardly ever buy our beer from the grocery store, though when the occasion calls for it, it’s incredibly convenient to purchase a 6-pack enroute to a get together. Most often however, we buy our beer from the local guys, the guys that carry the best belgian, and belgian style beers. Maybe it’s because our tastes tend to the microbrew that we shop here, but none the less, we choose local over supermarket convenience.

    I would think, should wine be available, I’d occasionally buy it at the grocery store when time or convenience was of the essence. But more often than not, I’d head to the local wine shop. There, I know I’d find a better selection and if the store was worth its salt, a good value on a great bottle.

    I can’t say if this is the tack most buyers would take, but I have to imagine, what with how many people really enjoy the process of finding a good bottle, there are probably a few out there who share my sentiment.

    In my opinion, the people who buy beer at the grocery store probably aren’t the same people who buy local microbrews at the specialty beer shop. I think the same logic applies to wine. Those consumers are already buying from the Total Wine’s of the world, not from the small mom n pops. Let the grocery stores have them, there is a place for everyone, and a lot of people prefer the easily identifiable, “I know exactly what I’m drinking” approach. It’s why Americans eat McDonalds in Paris and Tokyo.

    Understanding your audience, embracing a niche-market (freakin’ awesome wines!), and engaging in competition are all opportunities to do a better job and gain even more loyal customers. Wine is too important to too many people to become generic. For those that are willing to adapt, huge potential could exist for an even greater and more dedicated following of great wines!


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