New York Needs to Relax on Wine

New York Needs to Relax on Wine

May 13, 2010
Originally published in The New York Post

New York liquor retailers oppose Gov. Pater son's proposal to let supermarkets sell wine -- but it would be a clear winner for everyone else. Indeed, when it comes to the value of more liberal laws on wine sales, New York could learn a lot from Virginia.

The opposition lobby calls itself The Last Store on Main Street -- but it barely hides the fact that it just wants to keep its monopoly. At a recent rally of the group, Gregory Gorea of West Seneca Wine and Liquor explained: "We don't need to be on a more level playing field."

"Competition," he says, "would be bad for small business, including state wineries." The Last Store on Main Street makes a host of other foolish arguments, including claims that competition will hurt small businesses and place 4,500 jobs at risk.

State wineries would be hurt by more opportunities to market their products? That's absurd. In fact, the New York Wine Industry Association -- whose membership includes wineries -- strongly supports the governor's proposal.

Nor would opening the market be bad for all retailers. It would reward entrepreneurial shop owners -- encouraging them to offer better products and services. The proposal also would allow more licenses for wine shops -- opening the market to new businesses. And it would let successful individuals open more than one shop -- which is now against the law in New York.

But most of all, such competition would be a boon for consumers and the state's economy. Just compare New York with Virginia.

Visiting family out on the East End of Long Island, I've been appalled at poor selection of wines at local shops, which mostly sell liquor. And the problem isn't limited to Long Island -- nearly 600 New York towns don't even have liquor retail stores.

That's not surprising, considering that the state only issued 2,700 licenses for wine/liquor retailers to serve 19.5 million residents. With a population of just 8 million, Virginia has more than 6,000 wine retail licenses alone -- and more for beer and liquor.

And the resulting competition means that the wine selection is overwhelming. In Virginia, you can pick up an inexpensive table wine at Wal-Mart, Target or even CVS. You can find a premium bottle at the supermarket, many of which have wine and wine experts for advice. Or you can browse thousands of wines available at Total Wine retail outlets, which sells bottles from nearly every wine region of the world.

And specialty wine shops thrive in this competitive environment. There are at least a dozen boutique wine shops within five miles of my door in Alexandria. At least two of these are owned by one entrepreneurial retailer -- which, again, is illegal in New York.

All these shops offer unique selections, friendly and knowledgeable staff and regular, first-rate tasting events. Some even have wine bars in their shops where you can taste, eat and then buy the bottles you like. New York outlaws that, too!

New Yorkers should be clamoring for such competition, and retailers should learn to embrace competition rather than whine about "the risks." The ones that do will survive and thrive -- and the others can be left behind.