Battle Over Paterson’s Wine Bill Comes to the Checkout Counter

TROY—David Paterson’s proposal to allow the sale of wine in supermarkets is giving a new meaning to retail politics.

I took these pictures during an ordinary shopping trip. Unlike the dueling TV and radio ads on a number of budget issues, this battle is being fought person-to-person.

The shot on the right shows an employee at the Exit 9 Wine & Liquor in Clifton Park hovering over a letter from State Senator Roy McDonald opposing the plan. It was taped to the checkout counter.

On the left is a clerk at the Price Chopper in Troy who asked me to sign a letter in support of the proposal.

In his budget, David Paterson hopes to raise $105 million in licensing fees next fiscal year by offering supermarkets the chance to buy licenses to sell wine. This is an old dispute, and the arguments haven’t changed much.

“We would like to do what 35 other states allow. We think it would be an economic boost to the state as well as a boost to the budget,” said Jim Rogers of the Food Industry Alliance. He makes the argument of convenience and help for wineries, which would have access to a broader market. Rogers told me that they are collecting thousands of the cards I was asked to sign and sending them to lawmakers.

Marc Ressler, owner of Midnight Liquors in Tonawanda and vice president of the state Liquor Store Association, said the measure would “steal” the wine business from liquor stores, and said after the licensing fees would provide only a relatively small amount of revenue for the state.

“What that one-shot deal is going to cost us is, from our estimates, over 1,000 small businesses,” he said.

Opponents of the measure also say the proliferation of wine in grocery stores and bodegas would make it easier to steal and therefore easier for underage drinkers to acquire alcohol.

Meanwhile, State Senator Pedro Espada Jr. has introduced an olive-branch bill that allows liquor store owners to have more than one location and sell snack foods to, as Espada told me, “even the playing field.”


Battle Over Paterson’s Wine Bill Comes to the Checkout Counter