Gov. Paterson Uncorks Another Wine-in-Supermarkets Bill; Opponents "Outraged"

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Gov. Paterson has once again proposed a measure that would allow supermarkets to sell wine. This time, he's making the proposal part of his 2010-2011 budget.

And once again, depending on who you listen to, it's either the end of the world as we know it, or the second coming of the messiah.

We wrote about the long-running controversy last August. Paterson's measure failed last year because of opposition in the Legislature, and an effective lobbying campaign by associations of liquor stores. A couple of follow-up bills didn't go anywhere either.

Paterson now claims the measure could add $93 million to the state's coffers next year from fees paid by supermarkets. Backers of the measure went further, claiming the state would reap $147 million in new revenue over two years, and generate $22 million a year.

The bill would allow wine sales in delis, bodegas and gas stations licensed to sell beer, in addition to grocery stores and supermarkets. Liquor stores in turn would be allowed to sell food, cigars, lighters, other merchandise, but not cigarettes. And they could open multiple locations.

"The governor has responded to liquor store requests and leveled the playing field," says Jennifer Carlson, a spokeswoman for the bill's backers.

But the new bill drew outrage from the lobbying group which opposes the plan, a group of liquor and wine stores along with alcohol distributors and other businesses. A group called Last Store on Main Street called the plan "reckless" and a "phony compromise."

"This misquided plan would put money in the pockets of Big Box stores with creating even one new job, while imperiling Main Street businesses across the state and the thousands of jobs they provide," says Jeff Saunders, president of the Retailers Alliance. "In the worst economy since the Great Depression, Gov. Paterson is proposing a job killing plan that would crush small businesses across New York."

Opponents pointed out that the Paterson's panel on state liquor laws thought the idea needed more review. Last month Cornell study claimed wine stores would lose 30 percent of their profits, dooming many of those outlets.

Backers, including some wineries and grape growers and other business groups, naturally liked the idea. "In a year of budget crisis this addresses immediate needs and will also result in significant job growth in New York," says Dave Mansfield, a winery owner. "This is needed for consumers, agriculture, small business, tourism, liquor stores, small and large grocery stores to thrive."

"The fact is that there are liquor store owners in New York who support sensible changes like these that can improve our businesses and enhance our bottom line," says Bob DeMeo, a liquor store owner from Troy.

The bill also got backing from the Partnership for New York City, an influential business group.

Honestly, listening to the arguments ... We don't know what's worse (or better): allowing gas stations and bodegas to sell wine, or letting liquor stores sell food!

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